Is the Reformation Over?

Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary RomanRO Catholicism
By Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom
Baker Academic, 2008, 272 pages

The title of this book is strictly rhetorical. For “evangelical” Mark Noll, the Reformation is not only over but it’s doubtful whether he ever had much if any regard for it. Noll was one of the prime architects of the ecumenical ECT project – Evangelicals and Catholics Together – so he begins the book with the presupposition that Catholicism is Christian. He argues that, while Evangelicals and Catholics still differ on “secondary” doctrinal issues (the papacy, Mary, purgatory, sacerdotalism, sacramentalism, etc.), they now largely agree on the prime disagreement of the Reformation, justification, claiming Catholics now “mainly” agree with Evangelicals that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

“If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over” (p.232).

But while Catholics consent to salvation by grace through faith, the truth is that’s only part of their salvation equation, as Noll knows full well and only vaguely alludes to. As part of their salvation, Catholics must also “cooperate with grace” and perfectly obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church laws in order to merit Heaven. Catholics object to accusations of a works gospel and claim it’s only by God’s grace administered through their sacraments that they can possibly obey the commandments and church rules so that they can ultimately present themselves without the stain of a single “mortal” sin on their soul at the time of their death in order to merit Heaven. But the Bible says no one can become righteous by obeying the Law. It’s absolutely impossible. The Law only shows us we are sinners in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:19-21

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” – Romans 3:20

One day when I stand before a Holy God I will not have a single plea other than the imputed perfect righteousness of my Savior.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21.

In chapter after chapter Noll presents Catholicism in the best possible light while constantly disparaging Evangelicalism. I have never in my life read a more flattering summary of the Catholic catechism, not even from a Roman Catholic source.

Noll and fellow “evangelical” ecumenists have swept aside the Reformation and judge Evangelicalism’s Gospel of grace and the post-Vatican II Catholic church’s gospel of grace AND merit to be “something close to the same thing” (p.232).  He dismisses Evangelicals who continue to object to Catholicism’s works-righteousness soteriology as sectarians stuck in the 19th-century.

My soul weeps for “evangelical” ecumenist Judases like Mark Noll who betray the Gospel of grace and bid others to follow. Noll currently teaches at Notre Dame where I’m sure he fits in quite well. I suggest he stop the pretense and join the church he clearly loves.

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