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Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom

Is the Reformation Over?

Well, if you have to ask …

Where once evangelicals had been united in a consistent critique of Roman Catholicism, today evangelical attitudes have become diverse in the extreme. These attitudes range from unilateral rejection through intense theological criticism to varieties of cautious acceptance and partnership. Some evangelicals have even responded to the contemporary Roman Catholic Church by converting. These positions—as antagonists, critics, partners, and converts—define a broad spectrum, yet each one also reveals something significant about strengths and weaknesses within evangelicalism itself.


Evangelicals who continue to reject Catholicism in toto feel that they have history on their side. They may not be fully informed about the details, but they are troubled about Catholic domination over civil affairs (as claimed, for example, in Unam Sanctam [1302], when Pope Boniface VIII asserted ultimate papal authority over both spiritual and temporal realms). They often know about the anathemas of the Council of Trent (1545—63), when Rome directly attacked key Reformation doctrines such as justification by faith alone through grace alone.1 They invariably know about the Catholic claim of papal infallibility from 1870, though they may not understand how that declaration was qualified.

In addition, all-out antagonists enjoy an immense reservoir of voices from the history of Protestantism on which they can draw for warnings about the dangers of Catholicism. The twenty-fifth chapter of the 1647 edition of the Westminster Confession, for example, describes the Roman pontiff as "that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition."2 A. J. Gordon (1836—95), a devout Baptist who founded institutions that became Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, declared, "It is Satan who is the real Pope and his subordinate demons who are the real cardinals."3 Though sometimes less vitriolic, evangelicals who espoused J. N. Darby's premillennial dispensationalism regularly saw the ...

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