- Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics ed. by Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino
Whether this collection marks the end of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together collaboration or will serve as a platform for further work I do not know, but I find myself at the last of the pages hoping that they will go on meeting, studying, and writing together. Before this [End Page 82] “unofficial” collaboration began in 1994, the abyss between American evangelicals and Catholics seemed unbridgeable. I had my hopes, but they were mine and not general among the intellectuals in the two populations. Some Catholics of the left and even some of the right were not looking forward to collaboration with the offspring of American fundamentalists. Nor were many hard-line Calvinist fans of the Reformation dying to jump into bed with the “Whore of Babylon.” Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus had an insight, ran with it, and for twenty years sought out their common faith and belief, issuing periodic declarations with help from a small coterie of learned co-religionists of the two persuasions.
The nine documents collected in this volume are joined by comments on each, plus an excellent introduction by the editors to the volume as a whole. The result is an informative, provocative, and heartening book that will serve the interests of Catholics and evangelicals, left, center, and right; it will be useful in undergraduate classrooms and doctoral seminars and will open the eyes even of professional theologians and ecumenists. It deserves the close attention of historians of American religion and belongs on the shelves of libraries that profess interest in the American cultural scene. I can even predict that it will – and should – scare the pants off secularist intellectuals who might have been hoping that the “culture wars” had ended in Christian exhaustion. Far from it!
The topics covered in the nine documents are: the common Christian mission; justification; scripture; saints; holiness; pro-life; Mary; religious freedom; and marriage. Anyone who knows the history of American Catholic and evangelical Christianity will immediately realize that the authors and contributors have to be either brave or foolhardy. These topics, with the exception of pro-life, are barriers that have stood for centuries, and which have been approached in ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and churches of the Reformation only since the Second Vatican Council. They have rarely been approached in the slew of official dialogues in any but the most [End Page 83] careful diplomatic prose. The writing in these nine “unofficial” papers is accessible to a degree I thought impossible when institutional interests are at stake. The pro-life document is by far the best I have read on the subject over these many years and the others are not far behind in quality. All are illuminating. I must say, however, that several pages (160-161) of the document on marriage fall into a mild hysteria and the forecast for our culture on this account is apocalyptic. I can only hypothesize that a neo-conservative, anti-homosexual fever is behind the pages.
Three more comments press themselves on me. First, I wish that the evangelical terminology of “co-belligerency” and “contending” might have been skipped. The terms bend the laudable effort and valuable ecumenical theology in a culture-wars direction. Forget the wars, and extend the circle of conversation to secularists. Now that ECT has brought a small element of peace to our two Christian communities, why not strike out to pacify the Christian-secularist divide? Second, I agree whole-heartedly with the conviction of the participants that there is only one church of Christ. If so, why not extend ECT attention to the Christian exercise of authority? That fearsome issue is the crucial one for a single church which seemingly cannot be one as long as the issue is not settled. Are we quietly agreeing to disagree on authority, and damn the torpedoes? Third, behind the discussions there lurks the...