5 Reasons to Ask “Is the Reformation Finished?”
Reformation: From the latin reformatio; “the enterprise of repairing an inadequate state of affairs by returning to an earlier expression of faith.” (18)
Next year, on October 31, 2017, many will celebrate the monumental five-hundred-year anniversary of when an unsuspecting monk posted a list of grievances on the door of a nondescript church in Germany—launching what would become known as the Protestant Reformation.
But is such a repairing enterprise finished; is the Reformation over?
Theologian Gregg Allison and pastor Chris Castaldo have set out to answer that question in their new book The Unfinished Reformation. It is a brief, clear guide to the key points of unity and divergence between Protestants and Catholics today. They write to encourage fruitful conversation about the key theological and sociological differences between the two largest branches of Christianity. These questions about differences are important, because as the authors observe:
Go to a prayer vigil outside an abortion clinic and you will find Protestants and Roman Catholics standing together in solidarity… Or step into a concert of prayer in which Dutch Reformed and Hispanic Catholic congregations are petitioning God in unison. You may be drawn to ask an important question: Is the Reformation finished? (15)
Below is a brief survey of five reasons why Allison and Castaldo insist this question about the Reformation’s enduring significance is now more relevant than ever.
1) Room for Fruitful Dialogue?
“Can Protestant and Catholics discuss the gospel in a fruitful way, or are the cultural and theological obstacles insurmountable?” (22)
Given the influx of Catholics now attending Protestant churches—16 million, according to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; the number of marriages where each spouse are Catholic and Protestant; and the underlying assumption among some Protestant churches that fidelity to the gospel requires an explicitly anti-Catholic posture, Allison and Castaldo’s question begs to be asked.
They conclude, “The way we assess and navigate these personal dilemmas, practical problems, and institutional questions are, whether we intend to or not, a statement on the status and relevance of the Reformation.” (23)
2) The Pope Francis Effect
Not only has the 2013 Person of the Year captured the attention of Time magazine. Some evangelicals are flocking to Pope Francis, too. But why, given the enigmatic nature of the papacy? Allison and Castaldo contend that “evangelicals flock to Pope Francis because they resonate with his approach to theology, which is more pietistic than doctrinal.” (24)
They caution, however, that “when piety comes at the expense of doctrine, Christian faith becomes impoverished and subject to distortion. Therefore, we must study the contemporary significance of not just the piety but also the doctrine of the Reformation.” (24)
3) Modern Nicodemism
Like the Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Jesus by cover of darkness, 16th-century reformed-minded Christians who externally conformed to Catholicism were negatively described using the term Nicodemism. “According to most Protestant Reformers, Nicodemism was an unacceptable option. It was regarded as infidelity to Christ and a compromise of one’s integrity.” (25)
Allison and Castaldo identify a neo-Nicodemism among Catholics who study the Bible for themselves and hold beliefs more akin with Protestantism, yet remain in the Catholic fold. They contend, “It is valuable for such people to consider how the Reformation speaks to their religious identity and whether these implications call for expression.” (26)
4) Catholic/Protestant Conversions
In recent decades, a number of high-profile autobiographies have chronicled the Protestant impulse to return to Rome. Then there are the recent surveys revealing a startling migration of Catholics into Protestant churches or out of Catholicism entirely: Nearly 13% of all Americans are former Catholics (41 million), 16 million of which have entered into Protestant churches.
“Against this backdrop,” the authors note, “we are left with the question of why individuals choose to cross the Catholic/Protestant divide, and, more germane to our subject, what these conversions say about the Reformation today.” (27)
5) Catholic/Protestant Co-belligerence
Whether it’s confronting Hollywood over their perverse entertainment, exposing the horrors of the Abortion Industrial Complex, or decrying society's deconstruction of gender and marriage, “Catholics and Protestants are increasingly uniting in co-belligerence, what Timothy George describes as an ‘ecumenicism of the trenches.’” (28) This arm-in-arm partnership has also resulted in such endeavors as the First Things publication, the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement, and the Manhattan Declaration document.
And yet Allison and Castaldo wonder, “to what extent is co-belligerence between Catholics and Protestants genuinely rooted in a common foundation and theological agreement? To what extent is the Reformation finished?” (29)
“Greater familiarity and affinity with the pope, cooperation on social issues, the charismatic renewal, missional ecumenicism, formal religious dialogue, and development of doctrine have all caused centuries of hostility to cool. But does this mean that the Reformation is now finished?” (29)
Discover the answer to this important contemporary question by deepening your understanding of what unites and divides Catholics and Protestants after 500 years through Allison and Castaldo’s insightful book.
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