The Unfinished Reformation (Review)

Is the Reformation over? This question is going to be asked over and over again as we approach 2017

“The book’s main emphasis is a detailed examination of the key similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In the broadest terms, these differences relate to matters of authority and salvation—who or what is the ultimate source of authority for Christians, and how can people be saved.”

 

Is the Reformation over? This question is going to be asked over and over again as we approach 2017 and, with it, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It is the question Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo face in the title of their new book, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years.

The book began as a search for clarity. A friend had asked Castaldo for a book that surveys the commonalities and differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant theology with special reference to the Reformation. Castaldo was not aware of one so inquired with friends and eventually Gregg Allison suggested they fill the gap by coauthoring one. The Unfinished Reformation is the happy result.

Allison and Castaldo begin their work with a brief survey of the Reformation, telling how it came to be, how it transformed Europe, and how it changed the course of history. They helpfully define the Reformation (since it was, in some ways, one of many reform movements) and then tell why it is so important that we come to a consensus on whether or not the Reformation is finished. They offer these five reasons “why the question of the Reformation’s enduring significance is now more relevant than ever:” 1) Conflict in churches and families, 2) the attraction of Pope Francis, 3) the problem of Nicodemism (i.e. whether people can remain in the Roman Catholic Church even if their beliefs align more closely with Protestantism), 4) conversion among Catholicism and Protestantism, and 5) co-belligerence in American society.

The book’s main emphasis is a detailed examination of the key similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In the broadest terms, these differences relate to matters of authority and salvation—who or what is the ultimate source of authority for Christians, and how can people be saved. Authority and salvation were the key issues of the Protestant Reformers, and they remain the key issues today.

Where do Protestants and Catholics stand together? The authors find ten important commonalities: The triunity of God, the nature of God, the revelation of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the saving work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the glory and travesty of human beings, the belief that God initiates salvation, the conviction that God makes us his people, and the certainty that we have legitimate future hope. Though there is no exhaustive agreement in each of these areas, there is an important measure of it.

Then where do Protestants and Catholics disagree? Where tracing the commonalities requires just a single chapter, examining the differences takes several. Allison and Castaldo focus first on scripture, tradition, and interpretation, showing there are significant differences in how Catholics and Protestants answer key questions: How does God speak to the world? To what extent is God’s Word without error? Of what does the Bible consist? How are we to understand the Word of God? Then they advance to the image of God, sin, and Mary with these questions: What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What is sin and its consequences? What is the role of Mary? Then they need to look at the church and its sacraments. What is the church? What are the sacraments? How do the sacraments work? What is baptism? What is the Lord’s Supper? Then, finally, the matter of salvation: Why are people accepted by God? What role do good works play in salvation? Is one’s salvation secure? Why do Catholics and Protestants differ on purgatory?

Read More