The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America
William M. Shea
Oxford University Press, 2004
416 pp., 98.00
J. I. Packer
Evangelicals & Catholics
In one respect, at least, The Lion and the Lamb is a landmark. It is the first book by a Roman Catholic scholar to find long-term significance in the project called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), a pie in which I am privileged to have a finger. ECT is the venture of an unofficial conservative group working to build a platform of unequivocal theological consensus, uncompromised and uncompromising, with a view to proper mutual appreciation leading to joint mission tasks. There has never before been anything like it in North America, though Le Groupe des Dombes in France is in some ways similar. Shea sees ECT's togetherness as starting something irreversible and epoch-making, as when cracking ice signals the reality of global warming. Whereas up to now conservative evangelicals and Catholics have on principle (as both communities would say) kept their distance, from now on there must be mutual respect, forward-looking dialogue, and an acknowledgment of common cause as they labor to beat back the secular modernity that seeks to outflank both of them. That American Catholicism will benefit hereby, Shea is sure. He has an agenda of his own, and his cautious cheering for ECT is clearly meant to further it, but before we get to that let it be said that any cheers for ECT are welcome after the clobbering some of us receive for being part of it.
Shea, a laicized priest of Irish descent who now heads the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross, and who in true Irish fashion becomes whimsical as his way of being serious, makes no secret of being a cross-bench liberal Catholic who believes that Catholics and evangelicals need each other. Catholics need evangelical help to get them beyond clerical autocracy, and evangelicals need Catholic help to get them beyond their sub-ecclesial and sub-sacramentalist individualism. The point of his title is not that one community is lion and the other lamb, but that this is the time for the two supposed incompatibles to start snuggling, so that good things may begin to happen.
There might be a touch of Machiavellianism here, positioning evangelicals to fire what are in fact the author's bullets; certainly, this agenda is put forward in an over simplified way. My Catholic friends in ECT, like other conservative Catholics, are conservative not just theologically but also institutionally (I once stunned one of them by saying that the papacy still seems to me a grotesque institution, for all that John Paul II has been wonderful), and I am pretty sure they will not resonate with Shea's dream of declericalizing the church that John Paul has worked so hard to reclericalize throughout his pontificate. Then again, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist churches are mentioned (just), but evidently the person closest to Shea's idea of the pure and perfect evangelical would belong to the Campbellite Church of Christ, no member of which is involved in ECT. And one can admire Shea's cheerful frankness in rating the first ECT statement theologically "underdeveloped, unimpressive, and unimportant" and in admitting that he finds evangelical Christianity "quite narrowly biblical (i.e., Pauline), ahistorical, fanciful, and ecclesially irresponsible (as any good Catholic would!)" without jumping to the conclusion that he must really have taken the measure of what he is talking about.
Yet as history of ideas, which is Shea's field of strength, this book is a major achievement. It is centrally an overview of Catholic-Protestant polemic from the sixteenth century in Europe through four centuries of American history to today, seen through the lens of a deep and cogent understanding of human tribalism and the myths that tribes live by. Under the heading, "Paul speaks of Peter," Shea surveys the major attacks made on Catholicism over the years as the half-pagan foe of democracy and personal freedom, and neatly distinguishes en route between "hard" evangelicals, who see the Catholic community as apostate, and so strictly a non-church, and their "soft" counterparts, for whom the Catholic community, while misbelieving and misshapen in specifics, is a church still. Then, under the heading "Peter speaks of Paul," he surveys the dignified and largely successful rejoinders of Catholic leaders to the Protestant charges. And following that, Shea traces the parallel between the Catholic and evangelical volte-faces during the past century and a half. The Catholic story is of defensive anti-modernism capped by Vatican II's new openness to dialogue with the world and with non-Catholic Christianities, a move that left integralists behind. The evangelical story is of anti-liberal fundamentalism trumped by the commitment of the 1942 National Association of Evangelicals to interactive engagement with both secularism and Protestant liberalism, a move that left fundamentalists behind. (Fuller Seminary and Carl Henry are not mentioned, but should be.)
The high quality of Shea's narrative is maintained in its coda, which shows from the literature that Catholic scholars since Vatican II have not taken very seriously either the theology or the integrity of evangelicals, and implies that it is high time they did. Here a veteran Catholic shoots at Catholics the bullets evangelicals wanted to fire! Lovingly (I hope) my heart says "aha" as I read.
The effect of this weighty, warm-hearted volume will surely be to clear the decks for quality theological action. Hard evangelicals of fundamentalist type, and Catholic integralists of Tridentine type, will undoubtedly continue to press their view of the other party, so that the analysis of Catholicism as paganized apostasy and the plea that for Protestants there is no good home but Rome will still be heard, stridently as before, coming from the sidelines. But the ball is evidently at the feet of the soft evangelicals and Vatican II-brand Catholics, and ECT is already marking out the field of play. Still under discussion, however, are the rules for engagement.
Shea here brings in a point made by fellow-liberal David Tracy. The Catholic imagination is essentially analogical; it "skips through nature and history and even through Judaism and paganism, finding by analogy traces of God here and there," and so Catholic theology has an assimilative cast. By contrast the authentic Protestant (Puritan, evangelical) imagination is dialectical, giving evangelical theology an antithetical cast, for example on God and man, sin and grace, faith and works, sacred and profane, church and world. No doubt there is truth in this, but the point is more about intellectual style and personal spirituality than about the given substance of faith, unlessâ€”unless!â€”we eliminate the distinction between the God-given substance of faith (i.e., revelation in biblical facts and teaching) and the church's imaginative apprehension of it, equating the latter with the former. But this is what liberal Christianity characteristically does. Molded and impregnated by secular culture, the liberal Christian imagination revamps its heritage of belief and behavior to make it fit in with the concerns and prejudices of that culture. This happens within Catholicism as well as within Protestantism, and calls for a little more discussion.
Catholics, whose church is fairly well disciplined, do not take this process of adjustment to the brash extremes of Protestants like John Spong, Richard Holloway, Michael Ingham, and John Hick, whose imaginative end-products are not Christianity but something else; however, liberal Catholics seem to be on the same path methodologically, though nothing like so far along it. To all conservative Christians, liberals, however well meaning, appear as parasitic cosmeticians; cosmeticians, because they constantly aim to remove from Christianity that which outsiders, like some inside, find intellectually unsightly and unacceptable; parasitic, because they attach themselves to the historic faith and feed off it even as they whittle it down, diminishing, distorting, and displacing major features of it to fit in with what their skeptical conversation partners tout as factual truth. In mainline Protestantism, where doctrinal discipline is, alas, virtually nonexistent, liberals have a free run, but in Catholicism only a few steps along this road prove to be too far. Witness Hans Küng, whom Shea sees as a model Catholic evangelical, or evangelical Catholic: Küng, once Vatican II's blue-eyed boy, a theologian of huge capacity, hypothesized in print that the church's infallibility should be understood as indefectibility, and lost his recognition as a teacher of Catholic theology as a result. Witness also Rome's rejection of the liberal-oriented lucubrations of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. Liberal Catholicism may have charms, but has it a future? One doubts it.
The true corrective for all liberalism, so conservatives think, is a renewed commitment to the teaching of the Bible: a Bible viewed in its totality as Jesus and his apostles viewed their canonical Scriptures, our Old Testament (without the Apocrypha, it seems); namely, as the didactic discourse, utterance, communicative instrument of God in person; as, therefore, truth unchanged, unchanging and transcultural, by which all human opinions in all cultures are to be measured and assessed, rather than vice versa. Apart from a handful of texts curiously expounded in conciliar and papal utterances, which of course are claimed to be infallible and therefore incorrigible, it is in principle possible nowadays for Catholic and Protestant scholars to achieve substantial agreement on the exegesis of Scripture across the board, so that the only real questionâ€”one for both sidesâ€”is whether biblical teaching is going to be received as from God and studied, trusted, and obeyed accordingly. Humanly and pastorally, that issue then mutates into whether our minds will focus primarily on receptive interaction with the culture or with the Bible.
Most people see clearly only that on which they focus their eyes and concentrate their minds, and in theology things are similar. Liberal minds, focused on the prevailing culture with its pressures and problems, are often blurred with regard to the truth and authority of the Scriptures, through not having focused habitually on the word of God in, as, and through the biblical text. A basic task for conservatives in both camps is to call attention to this blurriness and, under God, seek to dispel it.
Shea hopes to see evangelicals and Catholics increasingly in conversation and so do I, with the proviso that it should be conservativeâ€”that is, conservationistâ€”Catholics who talk with conservativeâ€”that is, conservationistâ€”evangelicals. It is not for me to tell Catholics how to square up to evangelicals in these meetings, but to my fellow evangelicals I offer the following. Endorsing Shea's view that neither the Outline, as he calls it (meaning the classic post-Reformation package of controversial complaints), nor the more recent onslaught on Thomism as preempting any true account of sin and grace, would form a fruitful agenda, I propose:
(1) The joint-mission perspective of ECT should become the model everywhere, for the world-convincing unity of believers for which Jesus prayed is mutual love and togetherness in mission rather than centralized organization, which is what most people have in view when they talk of church union. Rethinking is overdue here.
(2) The significant oneness of the parties as of now on most of the main topics of mainstream Christianity should be explored and celebrated as the consensual frame for discussing everything else. The topics on which substantial agreement can be shown to exist include the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture, the Trinity and the incarnation, the mediatorial ministry of the Lord Jesus as prophet, priest, and king, the factuality of his kingdom and the certainty of his return to judgment, the reality of faith-union and faith-communion with Christ, in Christ, in his body, the church, here and now; the nature of the life-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit; and the range and scope of the church's mission. Even justification by faith can now be counted in this category of substantial agreement, as witness the Catholic-Lutheran consensus of 1999 and the ECT statement, "The Gift of Salvation." Discussion will show, I believe, that the key elements of each of these doctrines can be affirmed together, despite any differences of detail and sometimes of perspective that remain.
(3) Spirituality should be explored in parallel to doctrines, for any suspicion that Catholic and evangelical devotion are not on a par will undermine appreciation of theological closeness. Shea expresses his regret at having once given a flip answer to the question, was he born again, and it is good that he does, for biblically this question is crucially important, and shared testimony to a life of fellowship with the Savior will oil the wheels of continuing conversation in a very marked way, as many have already proved.
(4) Mission tasksâ€”proclamation of the gospel of Christ, catechesis at all levels, and the many forms of Samaritanship and pastoral care, of social witness and social actionâ€”should be explored alongside theology, in face of the question, how much of this outreach and service can be done in collaboration, without compromise of conscience, on the basis of the agreements that have been shown to exist. Extending the platform of demonstrated consensus, and maximizing cooperation up to the limit of what the consensus warrants, are two concerns that should be pursued togetherâ€”or, better, two inseparable aspects of a single concern, to practice unity according to the mind of Christ.
(5) It must be noted that in one large area of belief Catholics and evangelicals go quite different ways in their Christ-centeredness, namely, the nature, ministry, and sacramentsâ€”for Catholics, the sacramentalityâ€”of the church, and its place in God's economy of salvation.
Catholics see the church as the extension of the incarnation, whose councils and human head have been graced with the didactic infallibility of its divine head, and whose sacramental ministry of grace, mediated through priests in the apostolic succession of orders, is the ordinary means of a sinner's salvation, inasmuch as the rites themselves, duly administered, will convey the blessings they signify unless they meet active unbelief. In the Mass, the priest offers to God transubstantiated bread and wine to renew the blessing of Christ's atoning sacrifice for his people's sins. Believers outside come to be fully in the church through communion with its priestly leadership, ultimately with the Bishop of Rome.
Evangelicals see the church as the extension of the resurrection, the community of the faithful linked in solidarity to each other in Christ because each is linked personally by the Holy Spirit to Christ. Word and sacrament become means of the grace that evokes and sustains the self- abandoning faith that casts itself on Christ. The eucharist is a memorial thanksgiving through which the living Lord makes himself known to those who are alive in him. Leaders emerge from the fellowship and are commissioned by the Lord within the fellowship, but no hierarchical inner structure is of the essence of the church's being.
These accounts of the church are prima facie incompatible, yet they are integral to the identity of those who hold them. It will need to be made clear that attempts to confute either and convert its adherents to the other are no part of the agenda for these conversations.
But, given these ground rules, the mutual enrichment from Catholic-evangelical exchanges that Shea hopes to see could, I think, actually begin to happen. And that, surely, would be what Sellar and Yeatman or Martha Stewart would call a Good Thing. Yes, a very Good Thing.
J. I. Packer is Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Copyright Â© 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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