Mark Noll (Wheaton) and Carolyn Nystrom (a freelance writer) have collaborated to produce a description of the current status of Roman Catholic and evangelical relationships. The book contains nine chapters, an annotated bibliography for further reading, and an ample index. Among the nine chapters are included descriptions of formal dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and a number of Protestant denominations, both evangelical and mainline, a chapter on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, warmly praising it for its clarity on matters of official church teaching, a chapter on the four “Evangelical and Catholic Together” (ECT) statements, and a chapter on evangelical reactions to this flurry of ecumenical activity, ranging from those antagonistic to and skeptical of the improved relationships to individuals who actually convert to Roman Catholicism from evangelicalism.
The perspective of the authors is decidedly evangelical, both having written extensively for that audience. While the authors can be self-critical in places about evangelicalism and its shortcomings, their stated purpose is to assess contemporary Catholicism based on “Reformation criteria” (p. 15). So, based on Reformation criteria, is the Reformation over? If “justification is the article on which the church stands or falls,” then the Reformation is over (p. 232). However, it turns out that even though evangelicals and Catholics might agree that one is saved “by grace through faith,” as stated in the 1999 Lutheran/Catholic “Joint Declaration on Justification on the Doctrine of Justification,” some evangelicals still worry that while Catholics officially believe it, they don’t teach it, nor does it form a central part of their theology.
Additionally, for all of the ecumenical progress, many of the same issues that have divided mainline Protestants and Catholics are the same issues dividing evangelical Protestants and Catholics: the nature of the ministry, the Magisterium, Marian devotions, sacraments, etc.—most of which are rooted in ecclesiology. In these areas, evangelicals typically have less in common with Catholics than do mainline Protestants, all of which gives credence to the notion that much of the Catholic/evangelical rapprochement is more social and political than theological, and where it is theological, it is underwritten by professional theologians and not the ordinary “person in the pew.” For all of the “togetherness” spoken of, the Rev. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and frequent guest on Larry King Live, can still write that Catholics, together with non-Christians, are the object of “spiritual concern and evangelistic mission” for his Southern Baptist denomination (http://www.sbts.edu/mohler/FidelitasRead.php?article=fidel052).
This book should be read in tandem with William Shea’s The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America, which Noll and Nystrom themselves describe as the “best book ever published by an American Catholic on evangelical Christianity” (p. 238).