A major shift is afoot. It is a substantial, however incomplete, rapprochement with Roman Catholicism on key issues. What issues? Justification? Yes. Really? Yes. And others? Yes, others too. What has happened in the theological world since the 1950s when it comes to Protestant and Roman Catholic theological understanding is nothing short of amazing to those of us who have lived through all of it or most of it. Now before I say anything else, let me add this: it is easy to overstate the changes.
The differences remain dramatic, not the least of which is that the understanding of the Church is so different that one has to say that we are still at a conversational level.
But, there are changes from both sides: Catholics, especially under the spawning power of Vatican II (V2), have adjusted and compromised theologically; Protestants, especially evangelicals, ahve adjusted and grown theologically. In October IVP — note the press — will publish a book called Mary for Evangelicals, by Tim Perry, which will be nothing short of an attempted “evangelical Mariology.” And that is but one sign. JI Packer, Timothy George and others have been at the forefront of some major, major discussions.
For this reason, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s Is the Reformation Over? is a timely study.
How to summarize an epoch-making book? For that is what I think this book is. Not because it is brand new, but because (like other books of its kind) it brings to the surface something many of us have been pondering for a long, long time. Here we have a definitive, well-written survey of Roman Catholic-Protestant debates, dialogues and conversation, along with an excellent study of what the Catholic Catechism actually teaches (70% of which the authors contend should be fine with evangelicals), and a brilliant foray into the social and cultural wars at work that led Americans to such vitriolic relations with Roman Catholicism from the 18th to the 20th Centuries.
But, as the authors say, “Things are not the way they used to be.” That’s from JI Packer, and it is the title of the first chapter. It covers changes among evangelicals and among RCs, inside the USA and outside (there is good stuff here on Canada).
Chp 2 deals with the historic standoff between Protestants and RCs, and it trots out old debates, vitriolic language, and threatening accusations. This is a must-read chapter for the younger generation who may not quite grip whey their parents say what they do about Catholics. It covers the history: from the Reformation through the founding of the USA to the major shifts that occurred in the 1950s.