The Unfinished Reformation

What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years

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Gregg Allison, Chris Castaldo
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , September
     2016.
     176 pages.
     $16.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780310527930.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

During the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation and even before, the question “Is the Reformation over?” was asked many times. The conclusion of this book provides several answers to that question. It also fills the need for “a resource that surveys the commonalities and differences between Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant theology with reference to the Reformation” (13).

The book begins with an overview of Reformation events. The Reformation was not just something begun by Martin Luther in 1517, but included a wide range of leaders and reform movements both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church. It was motivated by the desire for “greater fidelity in the areas of theology, pastoral care, and overall piety” (20).

Authors Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo examine the basic differences and similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism to highlight the theological differences that have caused conflict in families and between denominations. 

Chapter 1 lays out basic differences in the areas of authority and salvation. Catholicism views authority as centered on the leadership of the church while Protestantism sees it in scripture. Catholicism sees salvation as a gradual “spiritual process” by which one “grows in holiness” and by “good works” merits “divine favor.” Protestantism teaches that salvation is a result of “the perfect righteousness of Christ” which is “imputed” to sinful people by faith in Jesus Christ (37-38). (Here the authors state historic Protestant theology. However, some Protestants today do not believe that justification comes about by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness [i.e., the new perspective on Paul].)

Chapter 2 sets forth ten areas of agreement between Catholicism and Protestantism including (1) the belief that God is triune, (2) God as an eternal, loving spirit, and (3) general revelation and special or divine revelation in scripture. Disagreement exists as to whether scripture alone is the final authority in the Church (Protestants), or whether scripture and oral tradition are the joint authorities (Catholics). There is also agreement concerning (4) the person of Christ, (5) the saving work of Christ, (6) the Holy Spirit, (7) the creation and nature of human beings, (8) the initiation of salvation by God, (9) human beings made as God’s people, and (10) that believers have the hope of eternal life.

Chapter 3 examines in greater detail the differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the areas of scripture, tradition, and the interpretation of scripture.

Chapter 4 details differences about God’s image, sin, and teachings about the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Protestant and Catholic disagreements about “the original state of Adam and Eve” lead to differences in their teachings about sin and its consequences (90). Differences are also evident in their teachings about Mary and her role in the Church. Roman Catholicism sees her as “the sinless ever-Virgin” who is a “Mediatrix” of salvation, while Protestants see Mary as the mother of God, who also needed a Savior as she lived by “faith” (100).

Chapter 5 examines the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism in beliefs about salvation. Roman Catholics teach that a baptized individual is “born again” by the Holy Spirit. This is called “initial justification.” The process of justification having been begun, a person is now able “to merit for herself the graces needed to attain eternal life.” This is accomplished “by receiving the Eucharist and by living a virtuous life” (125). If one commits a mortal sin, one needs genuine contrition, must confess to a priest, receive absolution, and perform the assigned acts of “penance” that enable one to become righteous again (125-26). There is also the need to spend time in purgatory before one reaches life in “the divine presence” of God (126).

For Protestants, sinners become God’s children by faith as the righteousness of Christ is “forensically imputed” to them by faith (126). Roman Catholicism teaches that Christ’s righteousness is “infused” which enables them to do deeds to become more righteous. Protestants do not believe that people gradually become righteous by performing “meritorious works” of penance and reject belief in the existence or benefits of purgatory.

Noting these differences and similarities, how can Protestants and Catholics move forward? The authors urge Protestant Christians to have “respect for the Catholic Church” because it is “an essential part of the broader, historic Christian tradition” and “champions many orthodox Christian doctrines and practices” (139). The authors believe that some Catholics “trust in Jesus alone for salvation” (140). Some Catholics believe other Protestant teachings but remain in Roman Catholicism—a perspective the authors label as Nicodemism (25-26). Christians exist in Roman Catholicism because it has “God’s holy name, the gospel, baptism” (142). Allison and Castaldo encourage Protestant and Catholic Christians to acknowledge both the areas of “profound disagreement” and the “real agreements” that exist, and to consider one another as branches of the same Christian “family” (143). 

Allison and Castaldo answer the question as to whether the Reformation is over with “Yes,” “No,” and “No, but …” (149) Yes, the Reformation is over in the sense that the “quarrelsome polemics” of the past are for the most part over (150). No, the Reformation is not yet finished because significant “doctrinal differences … still exist” (150). No, the Reformation is not yet completed, but much progress has been made between Protestants and Catholics in understanding the Gospel, especially considering examples such as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (145-47). The authors express the hope that the Reformation will be finished in future days. 

This is a fair, honest, and balanced book written from a Protestant perspective, with assistance from Catholic scholars, that will help Protestants and Catholics better understand one another and view one another more charitably. One author, Chris Castaldo, is a former Roman Catholic.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Armand J. Boehme is Associate Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Northfield, MN.

Date of Review: 
September 10, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gregg Allison is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where he teaches systematic theology.  Previously he served on Cru staff at the University of Notre Dame and overseas in Italy and the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. He is a pastor of Sojourn Community Church, and is the theological strategist for Sojourn Network, a church planting network of about thirty churches. He is the author of Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian DoctrineSojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church; and Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment.

Chris Castaldo was raised on Long Island, New York, as a Roman Catholic and worked full-time in the Catholic Church for several years. After eight years as pastor of outreach and church planting at College Church (Wheaton, Ill.), followed by three years as Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College, Chris currently serves as Lead Pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL.  He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic and Talking with Catholics about the Gospel: A Guide for Evangelicals.

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