Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission
Charles Colson, Richard John Neuhaus, editors
Word Publishing, 1995, 236 pages
First, some background. In the late 1970s, influential Evangelical gadfly, Francis Schaeffer, spurred on American pastors to enter the political arena in order to “reclaim America for Jesus!” Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and other dominionists picked up the gauntlet determined to stem the tide of “secular humanism.” Evangelicals soon found themselves as co-belligerents with conservative Roman Catholics in culture battles. As might be expected, political alliances gradually morphed into religious accommodation and compromise. Doctrinal distinctives were overlooked and some Evangelicals began to accept salvation-by-merit Catholics as “brothers in Christ.”
Bombastic Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority eventually flamed out but in 1994 Chuck Colson’s and “father” Richard John Neuhaus’s ecumenical “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” project issued its first declaration calling for Evangelicals and Catholics to renew their alliance against secular humanism and to recognize each other as Christians. The declaration was signed by a number of influential Evangelicals and Catholics. However, a large number of other Evangelicals voiced their concerns over the declaration, which embraced works-righteousness Catholicism and called for an end to evangelizing Catholics.
This book was published in 1995 to explain and defend the ECT declaration. The contributors were Evangelicals Colson, Mark Noll, and J. I. Packer and Catholics George Weigel, “father” Avery Dulles, and Neuhaus.
I really don’t care to expend too much energy reviewing this book. In my view it’s a tragedy from the first page to the last. The Evangelicals involved flagrantly accommodate error and compromise the truth. What is the Gospel? For Evangelicals, the Gospel is salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. For Catholics, their gospel is sacramental grace and merit. The two views can’t be bridged, unless you’re a determined ECT supporter. Colson and Noll see Catholic concession to “justification by grace through faith” and say, “Close enough,” knowing full well Catholics also adhere to “cooperation with grace,” aka merit, as the other factor in their justification. Packer? He correctly writes that if any Catholics are saved, they are saved IN SPITE of their church’s standard theology but he’s willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” – Romans 11:6
ECT went on to publish several additional declarations over the years although it’s pretty much faded from view. But, regrettably, Colson and ECT did accomplish some of what they set out to do. Chuck Colson (d. 2012) would be pleased that works-righteousness Catholics have been embraced as Christians by a large segment of doctrine-indifferent Evangelicals.