George, Timothy, and Thomas G. Guarino. ed. Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015.
Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics have their long history of conflicts. Both groups view each other as a rival on the expansion of the kingdom of God. These conflicts can be traced back from John Wycliffe and John Huss, who would long to have their Bibles read without being suppressed under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This sparked the idea to reform the Church and even purify it from within. The nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 theses against indulgences and the event on Diet of Worms culminated in the relationship between the Protestants and Catholics. Throughout the 16th century, the Reformers set their state religions. Some founded their independent groups or denominations. These Reformers protested the “unbiblical” doctrines of the Catholics and political hatred on the papacy. This conflict grew from Europe to England, stretching to New England, and throughout the world.
It is common for Evangelicals and Catholics, due to their history, to detest each other. But Catholic Priest Richard John Neuhaus and Evangelical minister Chuck Colson took the unimaginable step on bringing both major groups of Christianity into fellowship and dialogue (xvii). In 1994, Evangelical and Catholic Together (ECT)was established. Through this collaboration, Catholics and Evangelicals were able to unite under the banner of truth. ECT grounds their unity being under the will of Jesus Christ on His prayer in John 17:21—“that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” As expected, the journey was not smooth during the early years of ECT. Many, coming from both sides, were criticizing this fellowship. Commented that these were excuses for compromising and going astray from the faith and tradition. Some prominent theologians even commented that this fellowship was going too far just to have a theological agreement. Yet sudden change on perspective started growing by the 21st century. Evangelicals and Catholics are now recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ especially on defending the rights of the weak and most vulnerable in life. Another reason was due to documents being signed and published on every dialogue conducted by the ECT. Catholics learned and admired the zeal of Evangelicals on sharing the gospel and discipling the followers of Christ. Likewise, Evangelicals acquired a high view of the Church, both pneumatological and ecclesial way, when it comes to interpreting the Word of God (63). The ongoing dialogue between these two groups is becoming fruitful. Promising and hoping, by God’s grace and the leading of the Spirit, to continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This fellowship already produced nine documents, not as official representatives of each group, that are helpful in spreading the greater awareness and understanding for a more united Christianity.
After 20 years, Timothy George and Thomas Guarino published this book about Evangelical and Catholic Together. Tracking the development of this collaborative dialogue, pursuing a more united Christianity towards missionary hope in obedience to the Great Commission (10). Each document had undergone a scrutinized procedure of scholarly works before presented and conduced at their conference. Both editors were successful in displaying the historical roots and progress of the fellowship. Others may say that this work is a mere compilation of documents from ECT, yet without any background, one may lead to confusion about the dialogue. Wherein the editors included proper measures on this compilation of Evangelicals and Catholics Together’s documents that have the complete data to understand each document. Each document has an introduction from various authors who have participated in the dialogue. Introductions are helpful to understand the context and setting of a specific topic. These documents are chronologically organized from 1995 to 2015. Chapter topics were about the major doctrines about Christianity and the common misconceptions from both sides. It deals with unity in Christ, justification by faith alone, and reading the Word of God. The most united document was about pro-life being against abortion and the right to death. These groups unanimously agreed with each other both biblically and legally. One of the documents that are surprisingly dealt with was about Mary the mother of God. Who would have thought of having a theological document where Evangelicals and Catholics will agree about Mary? The work concludes with an epilogue from Kevin Vanhoozer and R. R. Reno which deals on the historical traces and towards the future of this ongoing dialogue. The editors also included the signatories and participants on each dialogue as part of the published documents. Still, these are not official documents representing the groups at large, rather these are theological agreements from those who participated on behalf of individual conviction and their institution which they represent.
This indispensable historical work encourages the Christian community to be united yet without compromising each other’s convictions. This work abolishes misconceptions on both Catholic and Evangelical side. Like how an evangelical person stereotypes Catholics on worshiping their saints and a catholic parishioner perceiving the lack of historic-apostolic ministry of the Evangelical churches and their numbers of sacraments (51). This book is also a celebratory work. Celebrating the successful dialogue between the Evangelicals and Catholics for 15 years and counting. This fellowship of ECT foresees the theological dialogue to be a major contribution to the body of Christ for both the present and future.
George and Guarino were among the major signatories and participants on this collaboration. Both were able to witness and be part of the dialogue on most of the theological dialogues. They are prominent theologians, and both are seminary professors on systematic theology and history on their respective seminaries. George is the founding dean and professor at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University. While Guarino is the systematic professor at Seton Hall University. The editors are both authored several books. Their prominent works are Guarino’s Theology of the Reformers and Guarino’s Foundations of Systematic Theology. Both are credible in their respective fields in teaching and sitting on key offices in the Catholic and Evangelical group. Their work for the ECT was even recommended by leading theologians J. I. Packer of Regent College, British Columbia, and Timothy Dolan the archbishop of New York. They said that this must be read by the community of Christians especially those who are part of the ministry in North America.
In the epilogue of Reno and Vanhoozer summarizes the main thesis of this work, “we seek to be one in Christ” (166). Throughout the whole book, this is the idea repeatedly communicated by the contributors. Being united does not mean to force or tolerate each other. Rather, motivated by love, unity is possible because Christ made it possible and He desires it to happen, as it was His prayer for Christians to be united. The contributors for the introductions are also respected in their offices and known in the theological field. Dale Coulter (Regent University, Virginia), Cheryl Bridges Johns (Pentecostal Theological Seminary), Thomas Oden (Drew University), George Weigel (Chair of William E. Simon in Catholic Studies), and Robert Wilken (Chairman of Institute on Religion and Public Life) were the contributors who were also among the participants on several ECT conferences. The work is equally represented by both groups which were carefully observed by the editors.
When it comes to tolerance, true tolerance, as defined in the book, is engaging differences in the bond of charity (xiv). But how can we measure such tolerance that we would not comprise truth in the name of unity? Do we just agree to disagree on doctrinal matters for the sake of dialogue? I mean, are these documents mere theological papers to feed our knowledge? Or it would be better to propose as well on the manners on how it can be applied in the Christian community and see the fruits of these dialogues? I believe this is where the book lacks. It historically traces the essence and nature of the fellowship but never discussed its implications or even observations about it. It was 15 years already with nine-strong documents, yet it never answered nor asked the question, “So what?” Are they waiting for the right moment or the completion of all the doctrinal documents? It will take a hundred years for that to happen. This must be addressed so the present community of Christianity may enjoy the fruits from these laborious dialogues.
This work is still a great help for those who are confused about the historical roots of Evangelicalism on certain doctrines. This guides a person to be aware of the misconceptions and understand theological positions way better than social stereotypes. It answers the relationship of Church and Tradition, the Tradition and the Word of God, and even the Spirit and the apostolic church authority. The clarity of the presentation from both groups was brilliant setting aside the errors of the past to progress unity in Christianity at large for God’s glory. One of the strengths of this work, it did not become a superficial book. What I mean is too good to be true. The work is based on reality and strict observation of the past and present with a clear vision towards the future that was done and published accordingly. Both groups, though longing for a fuller agreement, yet criticizes each other on their disagreements. They both maintained their theological convictions and did not comprise for the sake of unity. This is a wonderful manner of laying the things were Evangelicals and Catholics can agree and not ignoring those things that they do not agree with. This work displays the actual effort where both camps are showing interest in the development of this fellowship without having hidden agendas.
I urge, both present and future, Evangelical ministers and Catholic priests to read this book to be aware of the theological dialogues from both camps which deals with major doctrines and important cultural issues of the present time. Members of the church or parishioners were usually influenced by the convictions and perspectives of the ministers of their churches. If only pastors and priests can be aware of these documents, then the body of Christ will surely benefit from it. Also, seminary students interested in theological differences between Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical Protestants will greatly learn from this work and might be able to give enlightenment in their thoughts from these dialogues.