The Counsel of Trent

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Catholic View of the Gospel

I got an email today from a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ, the organization I worked with for several years. Several (half a dozen) of my colleagues and I converted and that raised quite a stir (especially since the Campus Director became a radical Calvinist and left the organization to found a Presbyterian fellowship).

This question was in that email:
Have a few questions for you. Just curious, really. I'm wondering how you and
some of your other buddies view the Gospel now. How would you describe the
Gospel or share your faith with someone? How would you encourage someone to
follow Jesus now?

Here's most of my reply.

In short, my picture of the Gospel and method of sharing it is *exactly* the same. We must distinguish between what Pope John XXIII—who convoked the Second Vatican Council—call the “deposit of faith” and the “philosophical and theological elaborations thereof.” This is essentially the same distinction Lewis makes in “The Perfect Penitent” in _Mere Christianity_ between the *doctrine* and the *theory*. “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it does this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work….Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works” (signature edition, p.54). So I’d still say that the Gospel is essentially that because of Jesus we may have peace with God. If we follow the Son, the Father will accept us. Since I never for a moment bought into the penal substitution theory of the atonement, my *theory* of the atonement hasn’t changed either. On the contrary, one reason I became Catholic is that I thought the Church promoted the correct theory of the atonement. If you want a clear exposition of the paschal model with exemplarist and satisfacgtionist overtones see Richard Swinburne’s “The Christian Scheme of Salvation” and Eleonore Stumpe’s “Aquinas on Atonement” in Tom Morris’s _Philosophy and the Christian Faith_. Swinburne’s view is expanded upon in his _Responsibility and Atonement_. Finally, there is Stumpe’s “Atonement and Justification", in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, edited by Ronalda Feenstra and Cornelius Plantinga. There’s also an essay by Quinn in Stumpe’s Reasoned Faith as well defending Abelard. He criticizes the original Thomistic theory, but the theory can easily be modified to accept an Abelardian twist. I think Swinburne’s picture is the most complete. These are the contemporary sources which shaped my theory of the atonement and reading them was a big part of becoming Catholic for me.Finally, I share the gospel in exactly the same way as well: I invite people to consider the claims of Christ. Now as then I give people Peter Kreeft’s _Between Heaven and Hell_ (or now perhaps now is The Journey) and try to engage them on who Jesus was/is. In short, it was the Gospel that lead me to the Church, so coming to the Church entailed no change in my understanding of the Gospel.

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