July 30, 2014

Shane Rosenthal on Evangelical Theology

Today we are featuring two posts from Shane Rosenthal’s article, “Abandoning Evangelicalism?” in Modern Reformation magazine. Rosenthal is executive producer of “The White Horse Inn” national radio broadcast which can be heard online at www.whitehorseinn.org.

As we said this morning, Shane’s article talks about the American propensity for switching religions and, in particular, why some folks are leaving evangelicalism for other traditions. The issue of worship was our subject of discussion this morning, and this afternoon it is theology.

I thought the following provocative paragraph was just the ticket for good theological conversation here at Internet Monk on a Sunday.

There is a great deal that divides Protestants from Roman Catholics. In particular, we’re divided over the crucial question of justification. Is Christ’s merit alone sufficient for my righteousness, or is that a legal fiction? This is an incredibly important question that divides our two communions, especially in light of the fact that Rome’s anathemas against the Protestant position are still binding. But official Roman Catholicism and confessional Protestantism are closer to each other than they are to the theology and practice of moralistic therapeutic deism that so pervades contemporary American evangelicalism. (emphasis mine)

Have at it!

Comments

  1. I think the Catholic and Protestant views of justification are a little more nuanced than Shane Rosenthal presents it. The Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s sacrifice is the only thing that can save us. But the Catholic view of justification includes inner sanctification of the believer, which some Protestant groups deny. Catholic theology would say that God’s grace inspires us to grow in righteousness, but if we exercise our free will to reject that sanctification, we may be lost.

    So yes, Christ’s merit is sufficient (and singular) for our righteousness, as long as we remain in Him. “He who perseveres to the end will be saved.” (Mt. 24:13)

    • Josh in FW says:

      I also perceived Rosenthal’s depiction of the Catholic view of Justification to be off a bit, but I’m far from being a scholar on Theology.

    • Yes–there has been a great deal of dialogue about this. It seems to me that Catholics and the mainlines disagree very little on justification, but this does not mean they can just…cancel the Reformation, since there are broader issues (such as church governance and authority), and anyway, by now they have evolved separate cultures and identities. I think some Evangelicals think they need the issue of justification as a…justification for their own identity.

      “Moralistic therapeutic deism” would not describe what I know of Catholic theology, whose positions on various controversies are well known. As for the mainlines, some of the might fit this description, but a more common situation is that they try to welcome everyone who comes, and not preach anything that might alienate many of those who do come. Is that bad? Remember, just because the priest or minister takes a stance on some controversial issue (homosexuality, for instance) doesn’t mean that people from the other side are likely to change their mind.

      • Josh in FW says:

        “I think some Evangelicals think they need the issue of justification as a…justification for their own identity.”

        Interesting point

        • Not to be off track, but Douthat addresses a lot of this in “Bad Religion”, which I started reading and am having trouble putting down at bedtime or when I ought to be working on my thesis (the academic kind!)

          I have only gotten throught the first few chapters, and now know more about the history of American Christianity from the late nineteeth and all of the twentieth century than ever before. If I may be so bold, I am guessing that MOST I-Monks who are not academically trained pastors are going to find something new in these chapeters…especially, in my case, for denominations not my own (Got a heaping dose of recent Catholic history as well, btw. I was a child during the upheavals of the mid-to-late 1960′s, and missed a lot of posturing and infighting.)

          I am not a total idiot, and had to study Church history and world religions in my Catholic college. BUT, that was 35 years ago AND we focused on theology, not socio-political ideas shaped by and shaping relgion in the USA….but I can compare and constrast Shinto with Buddism, fwiw!

          Might we need to review Douthat section by section….seems like there is SOO much history and insight, and at least so far he has written in the third person objective…..just an idea, since you MADE me go get the book (it was pre-ordained for me to read it…)
          :-)

          • Josh in FW says:

            Pattie,

            Thanks for the input. I love reading your comments. It was a couple of Catholic friends I met at Baylory of all places that first got me looking into the veracity of what I was told about the Catholics growing up in the Baptist (SBC) Church and it is lay Catholics like yourself and Radagast whose wise comments here reinforce my respect for the Roman Catholic Tradition.

            Martha, I also enjoy your added foreign perspective.

          • Radagast says:

            wha…someone mentioned my name… thanks for the kind words….

          • Josh in FW says:

            Yes, Radagast. I think your kiddos are lucky to have a Dad like you and I’m glad you share your mind with the Imonk community from time to time.

    • “Is Christ’s merit alone sufficient for my righteousness, or is that a legal fiction?”

      I’m a Catholic, and I had to read that sentence several times before I was sure which of the two options was meant to represent the Catholic view. To be honest, I’m still not 100% certain. The doctrine of imputed righteousness seems to be a better candidate for ‘legal fiction’ than anything the Council of Trent put forward, so maybe it’s the first one that’s Catholic? Argh!

      I’m going to go read the rest of the article now, but this excerpt doesn’t bode well for the clarity of the remainder.

  2. Chaplain Mike, someone posted a porn link on the porn post. You may want to go and delete that comment. It’s near the end.

  3. Along my journey out of the hard core evangelical church and into a mainline denomination, I noticed that I had more in common with Orthodox and Catholics in with the ways in which my theology is lived out. To me, the non-theologian, this says the core theology is more similar than not.

  4. Ugh. I definitely agree that theology which is focused on the happiness of its followers ceases to be theology and becomes narcissism. But a religion which crushes its followers under dehumanizing legalism, authoritarianism, superstition, and oppression of questioning and doubt (of which I think protestants and Catholics have been equally guilty) is no better. Not all that is stereotyped “therapeutic” is heresy. To borrow from the subject matter a few weeks ago, does a church want to help a member get to the bottom of what is driving pornography addiction, or does a church want to exhort its members to publicly smash iPhones and computers as the way to end the sin of pornography (as I heard in church this morning)? Is the former too much like “therapeutic”? When a member is struggling with questions of the faith, feels God is distant, or has questions about the meaning of life, does the pastor shut them down and tell them to get busy, get involved, read their bibles, etc? Again, I think neither protestants nor Catholics have a good answer. What is truly called “therapeutic” has no answer for these things either; rather it has a formula for a happy life based on rules and principles not that different than legalistic religion.

    • +1 I always shout and cheer when i read your comments.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …or does a church want to exhort its members to publicly smash iPhones and computers as the way to end the sin of pornography (as I heard in church this morning)?

      100 years ago, they’d be preaching on Temperance/Prohibition as the way to end the sin of Demon Rum, and exhorting their members to start swinging a hatchet alongside Carrie Nation.

    • The Previous Dan says:

      +1

  5. I really think the answer is much different. In the end I think what drives a lot of people is a feeling or desire “to be wanted and accepted.” I think some of that has to do with different stages of life. I think when people are younger they find evangelicalism to be more attractive becuase it has more show and fellowship than Roman Catholicism. I remember when I was in Catholic high school, and college. My Catholic friends were frustrated that the Catholic church didn’t have programs, events, etc.. like evangelicals do. That’s why some of them got involved with evangelicalism.

    As for me the liturgy seemed dry and boring. When I was a kid in high school and then 23, 24, etc.. (before and after the Mormon kool-aide) I found the litrugy boring. I didn’t see what possible benefit I could get out of it. It seemed geared more towards older people. And in the evangelical service they were taking a contemporary approach, talking about many relevant issues, etc.. The details of justification etc didn’t matter. I wanted to find something that works.

    In some ways I still do…if I can figure myself out.

    However..as I’m in my mid 30′s, I can understand why some people like liturgy. First fundagelcals are in denial about how they have “liturgy” also. Second in a world that’s cold and in constant flux I can see why people like liturgy. With the economy, job loss, disease as people age, etc.. liturgy week in and week out offers stability. You know what you are going to get.

    My take….evangelicalism is for the young, and Catholicism and liturgical services are for middle age and higher to the elderly.

    • If the movers and shakers of the evangelical world had your level of insight we would be in good shape.

      • Meaning…?

        • “First fundagelcals are in denial about how they have “liturgy” also.” – That would be a helpful thing for them to admit and deal with.
          “The details of justification etc didn’t matter. I wanted to find something that works.” – Majority report for evangelicals. The abandonment of our historic distinctives fostered the environment in which the circus proliferated.
          “….evangelicalism is for the young” – They have absolutely hung their hat on marketing to the young, beautiful, and would-be-successful. Even when not spoken, the prosperity message is subliminally enforced by methods. I have had more than one friend removed from a music ministry position because the leadership wanted nobody over 40 on the platform. This practice is so common its insane.
          “I think what drives a lot of people is a feeling or desire “to be wanted and accepted.”” – Which is the last thing many experience in evangelical churches. If we could pursue that half as enthusiastically as our marketing we probably wouldn’t need any.
          “liturgy week in and week out offers stability. You know what you are going to get.” – Which, in the end, is actually more therapeutic. It seems to be nearly the antithesis of entertainment. Which side of the spectrum does evangelicalism seem to be closer to?

          I’m telling you, had your sentiments been more prevalent in the Evangelical church, there would be so much of a post-evangelical wilderness.

          • I wasn’t nearly as bored as Eagle as a Catholic teen, but certainly think that there is a lot of validity to the “flash” and “relevance” of Evangelical churches have for those struggling to grow up.

            However, the depth and beauty of the Liturgy has only grown for me as I age. Perhaps it is because I am not looking for answers to life’s questions nearly as much, but am there to praise and worship and be thankful for “all good gifts around us”…including the fact that I am still breathing.

          • Radagast says:

            I was so bored as a Catholic teen I took up drinking… a very simplistic answer to say the least but then one day a Ugandan Priest let slip that there were more Gospels out there than the four canonical… and my intellectual self was peaked….

            …and so here I am today with the same point of view as Pattie above – i find the Liturgy deep and beautiful… and everytime I enhance my learning (through Scripture or a good Christian Mystic) I experience it yet again from a different angle.

            Yesterday I got to experience through the eyes of the innocence as a number of children from my second grade program made their first Holy communion. Hopefully it won’t be their only one this year….

    • I don’t think the line is as clear cut between young and old as you might think. I know plenty of older Christians who wouldn’t be caught dead in a liturgical church, but yet their kids are actually starting to see the value in them. This is especially true in pentecostal and charismatic traditions. In these churches, I find many of the older people are pining for something along the lines of a spiritual awakening similar to what happened in the 70s (or earlier), but their kids never experienced that, so they’re open to look elsewhere for authenticity.

    • The Previous Dan says:

      +1

      I would also add that I think a mature brain is more geared to understanding liturgy whereas a younger brain is more captivated by physical input and the literal and therefore doesn’t as readily see the value in liturgy. They don’t want all that mystical junk.

  6. Jonathan Brumley says:

    >There is a great deal that divides Protestants from Roman Catholics. In particular, we’re divided over the crucial
    >question of justification.

    Justification (imputed or infused?) is one difference, but the core issue which divides Catholics and Protestants is in the reliability of the Church’s corporate witness to divine revelation.

    This is a matter of faith. Has the teaching of the Church been preserved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or did this teaching go awry at some point in history?

    Specific issues like justification, communion, baptism, and homosexuality are important. But opinions on how to interpret scripture are just individual opinions unless we believe that the Church, through an inspired process, can discern these issues, and unless the faithful humbly submit and assent to the inspired teaching of the Church.

  7. I think that much of Evangelical Protestantism has much in common with Roman Catholicism, theologically.

    That is why Luther called them “two wolves tied at the tail”.

    They outwardly bicker and argue and disagree on much, and look very different. But at their core they both believe in a ‘lot of God, and a little bit of themselves’. Trouble is that it usually ends up the other way around. A little of God and a lot of them.

  8. I would agree with this statement. I am coming from a historic confessional protestant denomination. Unfortunately we have flirted too much with contemporary evangelicalism at times (because we are conservative theologically so we tend to be in more dialog with them). However, I find that I relate much better to those who are conservative Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran. The anathemas are the problem for me. However, I don’t want to leave the finger pointing at Rome. A lot of the conservative confessional protestant bodies are still calling Rome the harlot of Babylon. I don’t take lightly amending any confessions or councils, but I do think perhaps we would be greater served by removing our anathemas. When I look at the mess that has come about from both far right and far left I feel that our guns should be aimed in those directions instead of towards one another. That could just be me though.

  9. Can we have a moratorium on the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism’? It sounds like one of phrases seminarians invent and then apply to everything they don’t agree with. And then the phrase gets so overused that it loses whatever meaning it had initially.

  10. But official Roman Catholicism and confessional Protestantism are closer to each other than they are to the theology and practice of moralistic therapeutic deism that so pervades contemporary American evangelicalism.

    Mike,

    I am an Australian Anglican priest who is theologically Reformed, so I am not an authority of American Evangelicalism. But in my humble opinion ‘Confessional Roman Catholicism’ and confessional Protestantism are similar in terms of forms/liturgy but not theologically.

    For example if a Roman Catholic came to our parish, they would find the forms very familiar, the fact that we havé Holy Communion/Eucharist weekly would seem normal. But the theology would be different.

    For example, in the Anglican Church:
    1. People confess their sin to God through Jesus
    2. The Priest gives the absolution but in no way says, suggest or implies that he/she forgives them, but rather that God forgives them Almighty God our heavenly Father, who of his great mery has promised forgiveness of sins to all who with hearty repentance and truth faith to him: have mercy on you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and keep you eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    3. The Priest then says the Words of assurance which are from Scripture (Matt 11:28; John 3:16; 1 Tim 1:15; 1 John 2.1-2).

    This is very different theologically from the RCC:
    1. People confess their sins to a priest
    2. The Priest absolves them from their sin and confers God’s grace.

    Rosenthal’s article I can strongly empathise with and what he says reminds me of the late Robert E Webber’s book Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail – why Evangelicals are attracted the Liturgical Church whom states that the Anglican tradition meets six important needs:
    1. A sense of mystery in religious experience
    2. A Christ-centered worship experience
    3. A Sacramental reality
    4. An historial identity
    5. A feeling of being part of Christ’s entire church
    6. A holistic spirituality

    One of the reasons I love being Anglican is that I feel that it represents best the theology of the English Reformation, that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone. It also strongly endorses the authority of Scripture. While reason, tradition and experience are acknowledged as authorities, they come under the supreme authority of Scripture. So for me being Anglican is the best way to be a Reformed-Evangelical Christian.

    I believe that the gospel according to the RCC is anti-thetical to the Gospel that was believed and taught by the apostles but I also think that the gospel of TMD is also anti-thetical to the Gospel that was believed and taught by the apostles, but in a different way. What I am trying to say is that I think the errors of the RCC and MTD are different but what unites them is that they are both errors.

    A danger I think lies in that people come out of the TMD not actually converted due to not understanding what sin is, the nature of repentance, the atonement so they cannot discern the theological chasm between the RCC and confessional Protestantism (whether it be the Anglican Church -with the BCP, the Ordinal, the Creeds and the 39 Articles of Religion or the Presbyterian Church – with the Westminster Confession),