Orthodoxy is "in." From Britain, it is a theological movement known as Radical Orthodoxy (John Milbank). From North American evangelicals engaged in a rediscovery of traditional Christian doctrinal faith, we hear of paleo-orthodoxy (Thomas Oden). Whatever you think of it, this revival of interest in traditional expressions of Christian faith is undeniable. There is also a spinoff movement that is turning heads: I refer to the fascinating theological dialogue between Catholics and evangelicals. It is not the esoteric dialogue of the deaf that one might have perceived, say thirty years ago. Nor is it a quirky sideshow of the religious right. In fact, this dialogue deserves a hearing for its attention to core issues in ecumenical relations and Christian identity.
Begun in 1992 under the unofficial banner organization Evangelicals and Catholics Together, this new theological dialogue is positively sparkling in comparison with the maudlin character and institutionalized approach of the World Council of Churches. It consists of an unofficial group of leading evangelicals and Catholics, mostly North American, to address issues of common concern to both parties. Interestingly, it was initiated to deal with the increasing friction in Latin America as Protestant evangelicals made inroads into what have been traditionally Catholic countries.
Your Word is Truth (cf. Jn. 17:17) is a collection of six essays of uneven yet generally good quality. Together, they provide a solid understanding of where Catholics and evangelicals stand in relation to one another. As a volume, it deals with the theme of "Scripture and Tradition," and is a follow up to the 1997 unofficial Catholic-Evangelical statement entitled "The Gift of Salvation." Here, the central question that divides the two camps historically is: what is the relationship between scripture and tradition?
The six responses to this question touch on a range of concerns. But, most contributors express in one way or the other the idea that 'sola scriptura' is not a radical innovation. Rather, it is a principle of revelation on which Protestants and Catholics can generally agree as common ground. So, the enduring contentious question is not whether 'sola scriptura' is correct or incorrect. The contentious questions becomes to what degree, as Thomas Guarino puts it, "development [in doctrine and practice] is guided by the Holy Spirit...faithful to the teaching of Scripture."
What emerges from these considerations is a full scale reflection on key historical episodes, chief of which are two Catholic councils and certain key documents associated with these councils. The Council of Trent, with its famous decree of "two sources of revelation" (the written scriptures and the unwritten tradition) is referenced almost as many times as the second major event/document: Vatican II's Dei Verbum.
The most beneficial aspect of this book is the degree to which Evangelicals and Catholics are willing to take their own tradition up in a critical manner, as befits an interesting dialogue. This is best parlayed by Timothy George (Evangelical) and Thomas Guarino (Catholic). George takes up Karl Barth's little known and positive reflections on Vatican II as an appreciation for the Catholic Church's approach to scripture. However, as George and other contributors note, there are serious doubts as to why Dei Verbum repeats Trent's two-source theory of revelation. Guarino takes up this evangelical concern and traces its historical origins back through Trent's claim that scripture and tradition are to be treated with "the same sense of loyalty and reverence" to Basil of Caesarea's theology of the Holy Spirit. It is from none other than God's spirit that the force of unwritten tradition is derived.
The book begins with a helpful 7-page common overview statement by the wider ECT group on where evangelical-Catholic dialogue stands, a dialogue that these contributors believe is critical for its united opposition to "unbelieving ideologies", the "culture of death" as well as the 'canard' that "theology divides but service unites." Timothy George adopts a critical evangelical hermeneutic for re-positioning evangelical theology to take into account, inter alia, the insights into 'tradition' from the 1963 Montreal Faith and Order Commission Conference, Melancthon's reliance upon patristic sources for the Protestant principle of 'justification by faith alone' and a nuanced understanding of canonicity. His conclusion, articulately made, is for the "coinherence" of scripture and tradition, not their co-equality.
Avery Dulles examines in more detail the history and theology of Dei Verbum and notes the difference between revelation and inspiration, with the latter pertaining to scripture by way of manifesting the former. A correct understanding of scripture and tradition requires a correct understanding of revelation. Renowned evangelical theologian J. I. Packer provides a survey of contemporary evangelicalism to outline its diversity and its more implicit assumption of tradition. Though he begs the question when he states that an evangelical approach to reading scripture is designed to see "how principles apply." What principles? Who sets them?
Thomas Guarino takes up the challenge of articulating a Catholic response to 'sola scriptura' by outlining (with the help of Basil, Cano and others) the loci theologici, a hermeneutic of the various sources of theology that may aid authentic development in doctrine. From a Catholic point of view, Guarino provides the most interesting contribution in the volume. John Woodbridge takes up the myriad approaches within contemporary evangelicalism to distinguish it from fundamentalism and to characterize the individualist, salvific focus of the movement as a whole. The volume ends with a helpful piece by Francis Martin on the hermeneutics of trust that grounds a reading of scripture and its spiritual sense and its figurative motifs. This is a timely volume that is very useful for those who want to appraise the contemporary state of scripture and tradition in theology, even if it overlooks (by necessity) the contributions of other Protestants and Eastern Orthodoxy.