Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 5, 2016 and has been revised.
Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
By Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom
Baker Academic, 2008, 272 pp.
The title of this book is strictly rhetorical. For “evangelical,” Mark Noll, the Reformation is not only over, but it’s doubtful, in his opinion, whether it had all that much value. Along with Chuck Colson, Noll was one of the prime architects of the ecumenical initiative – Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) – so he begins this book with the presupposition that, yes, the Reformation is over and that Catholicism is a Christian entity. He argues that, while evangelicals and Catholics still differ on “secondary” doctrinal issues (the papacy, Mary, purgatory, sacerdotalism, sacramentalism, etc.), they now mainly agree on justification, the prime catalyst of the Reformation, and 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 Catholicism has NOT changed its views on justification since the Reformation. While Catholics will cautiously agree to salvation “by grace through faith,”* the vaguery of that term masks the unabashed works-righteousness precepts of their religion, as Noll knows full well and strategically alludes to only briefly in this book. As an integral part of their salvation system, Catholics must “cooperate with grace” and perfectly obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church laws in order to merit Heaven. Catholics object to accusations that theirs is a works-righteousness gospel, claiming that it’s only by the 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.
Noll and fellow “evangelical” ecumenists have swept aside the Reformation and judge evangelicalism’s Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone and the post-Vatican II Catholic church’s gospel of sacramental 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” ecumenical Judases like Mark Noll who betray the Gospel of grace and bid others to follow. Noll currently teaches at Notre Dame Catholic University** where I’m sure he fits in quite well. I suggest he stop the pretense and join the pseudo-church he clearly loves.
*When Catholics refer to “faith” and “grace” they’re generally referring to faith in their institutional church and sacramental grace.
**Noll left NDU in 2016 after teaching there for ten years.