I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Christianity Today's article, "Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together." In particular, I want to address the concern—raised by a relatively small group of fellow believers—that Intervarsity may have watered down its view of justification in order to become more inclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since 1941, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA has been bringing the Gospel to campuses across America. Our 859 chapters reach out to non-believing students and faculty, develop leaders and equip graduates to pursue God's purposes in the world.
Our purpose has remained unaltered for seven decades. InterVarsity has always been, and will continue to be, unapologetically both evangelical and transdenominational. Our vision is to call students and professors from every church tradition—and those with no faith background at all—to be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our mission field is broad. It includes pagans, Presbyterians and Pentecostalists. It includes Buddhists, Baptists and Brethren. It includes agnostics, Anglicans and Assemblies (of God). And, yes, it includes Catholics too.
InterVarsity believes that Jesus is Lord of the university world. This commitment has placed us on the front line of the faith/culture divide. In recent years, several of our chapters—including those at Rutgers, Wisconsin, Tufts and Grinnell—have been derecognized by university administrators because of our stands on sexual holiness and Christian orthodoxy.
We are thankful for our many alumni who serve in the church, the marketplace and the public sector. A small sample includes Dallas Willard (author/professor), Tim Keller (pastor/author), Gary Haugen (International Justice Mission) and Mike McIntyre (US Congressman).
Our Doctrinal Basis states that we "believe in justification by God's grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation." This sentence is wholly biblical and thoroughly evangelical. No amount of good works can lead to salvation. We are saved by grace alone. Period.
The full Doctrinal Basis may be found at intervarsity.org/aboutus/doctrine.php. I strongly encourage you to read it. It represents a significant upgrade from its 1941 predecessor (also posted) which ironically—given the current conversation—was less robust on the doctrine of justification. Also ironic is the fact that staff from Reformed traditions were instrumental in the redrafting process. The result: a marvelous summation of God's sovereignty and grace that several evangelical ministries have adopted it as their own.
In recent years, we have been chided by some on the liberal end of the theological spectrum for references in our Doctrinal Basis to "God's wrath," "judgment due sinners," and "eternal condemnation." But this is the first time that I have heard concerns coming from the other side of the continuum.
It is also important to note that InterVarsity is one of 150 indigenous national student movements federated under the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). With conviction, we affirm IFES' faith statement—"the justification of the sinner by the grace of God through faith alone."
Finally, the article makes reference to a Bear Trap faith statement. I had never heard of it before the departing George Washington University students raised it as a concern. Apparently, in 1960, a group of staff drafted the document. It was never adopted by our board. As early as 1969—when two of my current vice presidents joined InterVarsity—it was not mentioned during new staff orientation. Very few or our staff today are even aware of its existence.
We publish a wide variety of books—including N.T. Wright's Justification—because we are deeply committed to stimulating evangelically-rooted conversations that increase fidelity to Scripture.
I am thankful for a publishing tradition that includes John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Eugene Peterson and J.I. Packer. Today, we are taking the lead on important issues such as intelligent design. Our Ancient Christian Commentary Series brings writings from the early church to life. And, I am excited about the upcoming twenty-six volume Reformation Commentary on Scripture.
Which brings me back to N.T. Wright. The article seems to imply that his views are leading some away from a proper view of justification. Having read both his book and that by John Piper, I find each to be solidly grounded in Scripture. At times, I am more comfortable with Wright; at times more with Piper. Such is the nature of robust theological debate.
It is important to note that we also publish books that are more consonant with Piper than Wright, including: The Glory of Atonement, edited by Reformed Theological Seminary professors Charles Hill and Frank James; The Message of Salvation by Philip Graham Ryken, pastor of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church; and, Revisiting Paul's Doctrine of Justification: A Challenge to the New Perspective by Peter Stuhlmacher.
InterVarsity is in the midst of the greatest evangelistic harvest in our history. Four years ago, the number of students and faculty who became Christians jumped by 22 percent. And that figure has continued to rise. Thanks be to God.
One hundred new chapters are being planted to reach entire new campus groups. Nearly 3,000 students serve on short-term mission trips each year. And, we continue our deep commitment to biblical multiethnicity—40 percent of our students are people of color.
The Urbana Student Missions Convention, which Billy Graham has called "one of the most powerful, stimulating forces in missions for nearly 50 years," will host 18,000+ participants in late December.
The article places me in a painful and conflicted position. As a board member of Christianity Today International—a ministry that I love and which shares the same theological heritage as InterVarsity—I reluctantly confess my grave disappointment. No one interviewed our student leaders at George Washington University. No one talked with our two campus staff. The only on-the-ground voices heard were those of the departing students and their pastor. Rather than focusing on our board-approved 1941 Doctrinal Basis, the article centers on a long-forgotten staff-drafted Bear Trap statement. Sadly, as a result, the article lacks balance. As I have reread it multiple times, I have come to regard much of it is a de facto opinion piece.
Editor's note: This article was updated on November 4, 2009 to reflect concerns about the Bear Trap Ranch statement.
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Christianity Today also posted "Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together" today.
Previous Christianity Today articles on Catholicism include:
The Post-Neuhaus Future of Evangelicals and Catholics Together | Charles Colson says the convert to Catholicism helped break down the most important barrier. (January 23, 2009)
Let Us Reason Together About Life | A new statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together encourages discourse on the most divisive of issues. (October 10, 2006)
Churchly Holiness: An Evangelical Response | Even as Jesus loves all human beings, he will judge all human works. (October 10, 2006)
Sticking Points | Despite recent rapprochement, evangelicals and Catholics remain far apart on key issues. Collin Hansen reviews Is The Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom (December 10, 2005)
What I'd Like to Tell the Pope About the Church | Responding to the main criticism Catholics have against evangelicals: that we have no doctrine of the church. (June 15, 1998)
Does "The Gift of Salvation" Sell Out the Reformation? (April 27, 1998)
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A New Initiative | "The Gift of Salvation" A remarkable statement on what we mean by the gospel. An Evangelical Assessment by Timothy George (December 8, 1997)
Betraying the Reformation? | Two responses to R. C. Sproul's critical assessment of the ecumenical document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." An Evangelical Response by Donald G. Bloesch (October 7, 1996)
Should Catholics and Evangelicals Join Ranks? | By Kenneth S. Kantzer (July 18, 1994)