Last night one of the women in my church's new members' class asked an innocent, but perceptive, question: "If you're not Roman Catholic, are you automatically Protestant?" The answer, unfortunately, is that Protestantism-in its classical sense-can no longer be assumed. Even those who are not members of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy may look with equal displeasure on the Protestant Reformation and strike out on their own-Independents of a sort. This becomes especially apparent when you ask your average non-Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Christian what they think of the Reformation solas. Very few "technical" Protestants, today, would have much empathy with the solas. Even fewer, perhaps, would want to confess the sola that we're taking up in this issue of Modern Reformation.
Sola Fide—by faith alone—was the central issue of the Protestant Reformation and has been relegated to the dustbin of theological history by many of the Reformation's heirs. Even within confessional churches, sola fide is denied or conveniently forgotten in the ever-eager quest for self-justification. To confess that salvation is by faith alone-not by a faith formed by love, or a faith supported by works, or a faith that obeys-is as foreign in many "Protestant" churches as it would be in the average Roman Catholic parish. How did this happen? Reformed theologian and editor-in-chief Michael Horton takes up that question in his article, "Does Justification Still Matter?" Todd Wilken, the host of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's talk show, Issues, Etc., makes the question even more personal by asking us to look at how our own actions and beliefs belie our confessions of faith: our attempts at self-justification deny and hinder our enjoyment of the justification that is ours by faith alone.
Part of the problem, certainly, is that we don't have a clear idea of the nature of justifying faith any more. Presbyterian theologian David VanDrunen takes up that issue by describing what the Bible calls faith and explaining how faith works in the process of salvation. Lutheran lay-teacher Steven Parks adds his voice to this discussion with an explanation of why sola fide is so important as to be called the chief article of the Reformation. To underscore Mr. Parks's point, we're republishing David Gibson's article on "Assumed Evangelicalism" which charts the drift in churches and individuals when central concerns of the gospel are ignored.
In addition to these articles, you'll want to pay careful attention to our interview with Robert Sungenis. Mr. Sungenis is a well-known convert to Roman Catholicism and has written several books against the Reformed doctrine he studied at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). To judge his claims that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification is the doctrine of the early church fathers, you'll want to read a selection of writings drawn from Tom Oden's justification reader and reprinted here with his kind permission.
This issue of
Eric Landry is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (Murrieta, California) and executive editor of Modern Reformation.
Issue: "The Art of Self-Justification" Sept./Oct. 2007 Vol. 16 No. 5 Page number(s): 2
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