Christianity,  Theology/Bible

I’m still at least 51% Protestant

Evangelical-Catholic dialogue has been a hot topic in the wake of the Pope’s recent affirmation of the Roman Catholic Church as the only true church. For example, Christianity Today‘s “Honest Ecumenism, Again” and “Virtue That Counts” as well as Al Mohler’s “No, I’m not offended” have been making the rounds in the blogosphere.

In this context, it is interesting to read some questions raised by my old mentor Daniel Wallace over at the “Parchment and Pen” blog. Although Wallace’s remarks are not a response to the Pope’s recent announcement, they are relevant to Evangelical-Catholic dialogue. Wallace says, “I’m still at least 51% Protestant.” You’ll want to go and read the whole thing, but here’s his conclusion:

“I’m questioning some of the tenets of Protestantism and evangelicalism. That doesn’t mean that I’m questioning the whole thing; I still believe that the evangelical faith is the best expression of genuine Christianity today. But I also believe that it is flawed and that we can learn from Catholics and Orthodox. And just as it is possible for someone to be saved and be an evangelical, I think it’s possible for someone to be saved and be a Catholic or eastern Orthodox. So, I’m still at least 51% Protestant (and Luther is still a hero of mine), but I have no qualms criticizing my own tradition and exploring what we can learn from others.

“This, of course, raises a significant issue: If the theological distinctions between Catholics, Orthodox, and evangelicals don’t define the boundaries of heaven and hell, then what do they do? What is the value of such distinctions? What purpose do they serve?”


  • Ray Van Neste

    Wow! What does he mean? I have always believed Catholics could be saved in spite of some Roman positions. And willingness to critique evangelicalism has been common to me. In all this I would not describe myself as 51% Protestant. I am firmly Protestant and disturbed with a number of official Catholic positions. Is this more of a reaction from more narrow circles that Wallace is in? Theological distinctions between Orthox, Catholic and Protestants need not define exactly the boundaries of heaven and hell to be meaningful.

  • Steve Hayes

    I think his “51%” reference is simply meant to communicate that he is still mostly protestant in his views, but it is also meant to show how silly it is to quantify a belief system. To me it communicates that he is an evangelical who appreciates the various histories and traditions that have led Christendom to this particular place (whatever place that is!).

    I also think you are correct in pointing out that he is probably reacting to more narrow views on this issue (and there are many folks who hold such views). As a matter of fact, when I was growing up in southwest Louisiana, it was very common to hear a prominent Baptist say that Catholics were not going to make it to heaven. Even in college there was strong discussion as to whether or not Catholics could be saved. David Allen, who now holds some high position at Southwestern, once stated in a debate at The Criswell College that he didn’t believe that Catholics could be saved. So, yes, there are some very narrow views on this issue that are alive and well in this day and age.

  • Barry

    As far as Catholics or anyone making it to heaven, we must all assert that if any belief system teaches that salvation is granted apart from faith in Christ alone and apart from works, then such teachings are anathema. Would you agree?


  • Steve Hayes

    Let’s see what the beliefs of the Catholic church really say, and then we can judge them for ourselves.Section 1996 of the Catechism says:

    Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. (Jn 4:14; 7:38-39.)

    Sections 161-162 of the Catechism say:

    (161) “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation…therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification…(162) Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man…

    Wow!! That sounds pretty rock solid to me.

    Now check out what is written in sections 2007-2009:

    2007. “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any MERIT on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator. ” 2008. “The MERIT of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the MERIT of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s MERIT, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit. ”

    2009. “Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true MERIT on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us ‘co-heirs’ with Christ and worthy of obtaining ‘the promised inheritance of eternal life.'[Council of Trent (1547): DS 1546.] The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.[Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1548.] ‘Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due…. Our merits are God’s gifts.'[St. Augustine, Sermo 298, 4-5: PL 38, 1367.]”

    Are these statements anathema? I think not. It seems to me that the Catholic view is in line with the Council of Trent, as its findings in session 6, chapter 8 are as follows:

    “In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously. And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace (Rom. 11:6).”

    So, I don’t think the Catholic view is as simple as you make it sound. Do Catholics walk a fine line when it comes to faith and works? I would say yes, but from what I’ve read of the official Roman Catholic statements on the subject, I see very little that I would disagree with. I don’t think the Catholic church teaches works salvation like I once did. Why? Because I actually read their stuff instead of only listening to what was told to me by Baptists hell bent on casting Catholics into the fire.

    I’m not Catholic for a reason, but it’s not because I think they teach a salvation that is contrary to one that is “by faith, through grace, and not of works lest any man boast.”

    Look, Barry, this thing is going to get really hot. I’ve officially stirred the pot, and it’s going to get goofy from here on out. You and others will post your arguments, and none of us will convince the other that we’re right. I cringe at the thought of this debate, and have no interest in fighting with anyone over this. All I’m saying is this: most Baptists hold to a view of salvation best summarized by the words “Accept, Believe, Commit”. I think you’ll have a difficult time proving how the Catholic view of salvation is any different. Beyond that, there are a ton of differences, many worthy of criticism.

  • Russ

    Good comments Steve… When we speak of the dividing lines between the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and that of Evangelicalism, it is good to try to be clear on what those teachings really are.

    Your quotes from the Catechism notwithstanding, there can be no denying that Catholicism does not view justification in the same way that Evangelicalism does. Your comment that “Catholics walk a fine line when it comes to faith and works” alludes to this, though this probably isn’t the best way to characterize the Church’s historical view of the role that our works play in saving faith. Nevertheless, if we are to put it that way, the Catholic line wouldn’t seem to be any finer than the one we find in the New Testament.

    The only time the Scripture ever explicitly uses the phrase “faith alone” is in the book of James, and I quote… “You see that a person is justified by what he does and NOT by faith alone.” I think that the Protestant position springs more from an effective Reformation slogan than the actual text of Scripture. And I agree that “sola fide” makes for a great slogan! Not sure in the long run that it will be shown to make for great theology.

    Yet at the end of the day, issues of the nature of justification (which have been discussed and deliberated on throughout the history of the Church) notwithstanding, the position of the Catholic Church is still “salvation by grace through faith.” So, that would seem to be something that we can all agree on.

    I appreciate what Wallace has said, because I really believe that Jesus does want His people to be one. And we need each other.

  • Barry

    Steve, I know you fancy yourself no longer to be a Southern Baptist (which is fine), and you so often on Denny’s blog ream the tradition in which you were brought up. I am glad you are at IBC: my wife used to work there, we did our marriage counseling there, and I used to teach Andy’s daughter guitar. Great church.

    Concerning my own views of Roman theology, do you presuppose that I merely learned all of what I know from “some empty-headed Baptist” as you seem to suggest? Steve, I went to DTS, where I learned about the Roman church from such men as Hannah, Bingham (a Southern Baptist, but would you call him a simpleton?), Bock, Burns etc. I have read Trent and the Vatican docs, and those who maintain justification by faith alone are still under the RCC’s anathema. I am glad you “actually read their stuff.” Good. More of us should.

    From Trent:
    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

    CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

    CANON XXX -If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.

    CANON XXXII.-If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life, and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

    I think the divide is pretty clear on the matter of faith and works. Canon I asserts that salvation is not solely from works, which is absolutely true, but the real question is what role do they play in eternal salvation? That is the abiding question that truly divides, and calls to mind the great quote from Luther that “justification by faith alone is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.” Calvin too: “Justification by Faith Alone is the hinge of the Reformation.” I am not willing to downplay this distinctive.

    Further, though many non-Catholics might want to downplay such important distinctives, the RCC is not reciprocating. In the latest document issued by the Vatican, the matter is clear. Neither you nor I are part of the true Church of Christ.

    In sum, you are right in that we will not likely convince one another.


  • Ray Van Neste

    Good points Barry. It is interesting to see some downplaying these key distinctives while the RCC does not.
    We ought to be clear that very real differences remain between Protestants and Catholics. At the same time I do not at all assume that no Catholics are truly converted. It is clear that not everyone in the Catholic church believes just as the official documents state- just as it is clear that not all members of Protestant churches believe what their churches officially state.

  • Russ


    I assume “the latest document form Rome” you refer to is the recent RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH.

    You say “In the latest document issued by the Vatican, the matter is clear. Neither you nor I are part of the true Church of Christ..”

    This document makes no such statement. The document does confirm the RC view that since Protestant “ecclesiastical communities” are disconnected from apostolic succession and the administration of the sacraments, that in the RC view, they cannot be called “Churches” in the proper sense. To fully understand what this statement is saying (and not saying) one needs to more fully understand RC ecclesiology. No time to go into that now… but suffice it to say that this is more about ecclesiastical semantics than it is about barring Protestants and Protestant communities from being part of the Church of Christ. And BY NO MEANS, as so many have suggested in articles and blogs, does this mean that the RC does not consider Protestant believers to be saved.

    Indeed this is part of the significance of the terminology found earlier in the document that the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church. It does not say that the Church of Christ IS the Catholic Church. And here is part of the reason why, from the document…

    “It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.”

    The term “ecclesial Communities” is a direct reference to Protestant congregations.

    The document goes on to say this…

    “It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”

    Just one more thought…

    You are correct that there is a very real divide between Protestants and the RC on the matter of faith and works. Or, put another way, a divide on the subject of what role we (humans) play in our justification.

    It should be noted, however, that there are divisions on this matter within Protestantism as well, between the Armenian and the Calvinist positions, for instance. Though you may not agree with it, there is much discussion and scholarship in these days that is shifting Protestant views on justification. Likewise, the Catholic view is expressed these days in a way that is much more nuanced than in the hot reactionary days of Trent.

    It is interesting that Protestant always want to quote from Trent, but Catholic apologists seldom do. On the other hand, Catholic apologists like to quote some of the more bizarre and reactionary statements of Luther, which Protestant are loath to bring up, probably for similar reasons. 🙂

  • Wesley


    You said: “where I learned about the Roman church from such men as Hannah, Bingham..”

    To clarify, Bingham’s official position on RCC (we asked him in class) is that it depends on the RC, whither they interpret Trent in an Augustinian way or a pelagian way. And that a good Catholic who follows the official doctrine can be a genuine Christian if they interpret the CCC in a Augustinian manner, he seems to see the CCC as ambivalent on that issue.

    DTS is split, even among professors on what to do with the RCC

    I’m with Dr. Bingham, maybe even a little farther, a Catholic who follows the CCC is just as much a Christian as a Protestant, assuming they see it more Augustinian. They don’t even have to go any farther then the Council of Orange, which some flavors of Calvinism seem to do.

    Even if they “unchurch” me, doesn’t mean I’m going to “unchurch” them.

    And we can acknowledge big differences, without saying those differences make a difference when in comes to individual salvation.

  • Barry

    Ray (#9),
    I agree completely. In no way did I mean to imply that all Catholics are saved. This would be as silly as to assert that all Baptists are saved! Call me too much lost in the 16th century, (and I think you would agree) but the chief matter is still that of the term “alone” and the role of works and how they are effective in determining one’s position before God. I have never seen an official doc from the RCC that overturns the canons of Trent.

    Wesley, I am curious about an Augustinian interpretation of Trent. I took Bingham for Augustinian theology as well as church history, but I don’t recall his being favorable and acceptable towards Trent. That would have been 1996-2001, so he might have moved a bit since then. I’m curious. Hannah, for darn sure, had little good to say about it! One of my favorite “Hannahisms” is, when asked about the root of the Church’s troubles in the late middle ages (pre-Ref.), “It was those d— popes in Rome!!!”

    And yes, I still cite Trent. Since it has never been overturned, why is there a problem citing it, Russ? Also, I’m not Lutheran, but it does not follow that because I cite Trent I have to embrace all of Luther. Luther’s writings were not official church dogma for the world-wide Christian Church at the time as Trent was anyway. Also, I might have misunderstood the latest RCC doc from Pope Benedict, but I don’t think he was equating Protestant “ecclesial communities” with the one true (Roman) Church (despite the fact that “ecclesial” comes from the same Greek term ekklesia).


  • Steve Hayes


    Good for you. I’m thrilled that you are well educated, and I have nothing but respect for DTS and the education it offers. I don’t think I even implied that you, personally, are someone who is an “empty-headed Baptist”, but I have known many who would fit under that category, just as I’ve known many from other denominations, including some in the Bible Church. And please don’t forget that I too studied under Dr. Bingham and still have a great relationship with him. I would never suggest that he would be anything other than brilliant. In this case, however, I’m certain that he would side more with me than you. I’m also certain that Kreider and others would have a more broad view of ecuminism than you.

    I’m also thrilled to have had the opportunity to grow up Baptist, and have never said anything to the opposite. I have criticized certain aspects of Baptist practice and politics, but have never once suggested that my Baptist heritage is something to be held in contempt. I’m sorry you got that from anything I may have written in the past. One of the problems with blogging is that you only get snippets of people’s views, and often they aren’t comprehensive. Either way, I think you’ve overstated my actual feelings toward the SBC, and perhaps that is my fault. If so, I apologize.

    Barry, I won’t rehash what you and Russ have discussed, but I will say that it doesn’t bother me one bit that the RC doesn’t equate protestant “ecclesial communities” with themselves. I would doubt that any Baptist leaders would equate the RC with the SBC. I see no problem with them making a distinction, because there IS a distinction.

    Like you, I don’t at all want to downplay justification by faith alone. As a matter of fact, I want to highlight it. That’s exactly what Cannon I does! My statement in my prior post suggests that my problem is not with the Catholic statements on salvation, and in that I was referring specifically to those statements in Cannon I. Those statements, I believe, refer to the “point” of salvation, wherein a sinner is awakened by the Holy Spirit to his offense toward God and his need for a savior. What Catholics describe in the quotes you provide are what I would classify as sanctification and not necessary at the “point” of salvation. I am willing to believe that many catholics would view them in much the same way. They would tend to look at works as part of the process of salvation, which we would term “sanctification”. Yes, I do have a problem with this lack of distinction, but I’m not sure it ammounts to Christ witholding the gift of salvation from the RCC.

    I have heard many protestants comment on the salvation of others (not the sanctification of others) by saying, “He/She must not be saved (justified) because they don’t act like a saved (justified) person.” I have heard it stated in protestant sermons that those who fail to bear fruit cannot be saved (justified). Is this rhetoric not representative of the exact same fallacy?

    I’m not here to argue for or against the RCC, but I do think we protestants fail to recognize that we are often guilty of the exact same beliefs that we accuse the RCC of holding. I just think there is a need for a balanced evaluation of all who claim Christ. I commend those who enter into Catholic-protestant dialogue with an open mind. This is a healthy process that should be encouraged. The fact that many protestants view Catholic documents as battering rams rather than entry points for discussion and clarification is sad to me. I would hope that we would strive for better.

  • Wesley

    I had Bingham for Church Hist I and Theology of the Early Church, in both he was quite kind to the RC. It was in Hist I that he made the statement about an Augustinian interp of Trent. He also defended them in theo of the Early Church.

    Hannah I had for Hist II, so we didn’t go much into it, but I got the impression he would hold to the general hetero-doxy of the RC (or maybe even apostasy, we didn’t talk allot about them)

    It is certainly within the tradition of Protestantism and DTS to have your view of the RC however, and I must at least acknowledge I am going mostly against the grain of that tradition. Although now that I am Anglican I’m not as part of that tradition as much as more Reformed or Lutheran would be (due to development more then some early English reformers).

  • Russ


    I did not say, nor mean to imply that there is a problem with citing Trent. I was only making an observation.

    I also have no expectation that you would hold to all of Luther’s views, in fact I am quite sure that you do not. Again, just making an observation… and trying to be witty.

    The point is not that Trent is invalid, and it is certainly correct to point out that it has not been overturned. I was simply trying to put the verbiage of Trent in its historical context. My point is that when you put current Protestant discussion on the matter of justification alongside current Catholic expression of same, you find a lot of overlap and a fair bit of hairsplitting. In other words, while, as I have stated, there is a divide here, I do not believe it to be a significant as many assume.

    I think the crux of the matter is the hard separation in Protestant teaching between sanctification and justification. The RCC looks at Scripture and sees no such explicit divide. Protestants do. Protestants look to the Scripture and see faith alone, and define that teaching in a way that the RCC does not see and cannot accept.

    As to the recent document we have been discussing, it’s probably not a big deal, but in the interest of precision, it did not come from the hand of the Pope, although he did approve it. Not a big deal, just thought it might be worth clarifying since many media sources seem to be confused on this matter.

    I never said that the document equates “ecclesial Communities” (us) with the one true Church or the Roman Catholic Church. Neither does the document equate the RCC with the one true Church of Christ. Again, this is the point of saying that the Church of Christ “subsists in ” the RCC rather than that the Church of Christ IS the RCC.

    By the way… just thinking about the original title of this post. According to the “theological worldview” quiz that has been going around the web for a while and that I retake every year just for fun, I am MORE that 51% Protestant. The trouble is, according to the quiz, I am also more than 51% Catholic. 🙂

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.