The Joint Declaration On The Doctrine Of Justification: Retrospect And Prospects -- By: Ted M. Dorman

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 44:3 (Sep 2001)
Article: The Joint Declaration On The Doctrine Of Justification: Retrospect And Prospects
Author: Ted M. Dorman


The Joint Declaration On The Doctrine Of Justification: Retrospect And Prospects

Ted M. Dorman*

[* Ted Dorman is professor of Bible and theology at Taylor University, 236 West Reade Avenue, Upland, IN 46989–1001.]

On Reformation Day—October 31, 1999—official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Worldwide Lutheran Federation culminated a two-decade dialogue 1 by signing a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (hereafter JDDJ). The document set forth areas of new-found accord regarding the nature of justification as well as areas where disagreements still exist between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions. In addition, both sides officially lifted anathemas pronounced upon one another over four hundred years ago.

News headlines regarding the signing of JDDJ ran the gamut from celebratory to cautious to critical. For example:

“Faiths Heal Ancient Rift over Faith; Catholics, Lutherans End Doctrinal Dispute.” 2

“On Earth, Peace?” 3

“Taming the Reformation.” 4

In the United States, Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant leaders generally praised the declaration, as did some high-profile evangelical Protestants, though not without qualification. Not surprisingly, there was negative feedback as well. The Rev. Paul T. McCain of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (which is not affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation) used the words “ambiguous and equivocating” as well as “fundamentally dishonest” to describe JDDJ. 5 Reformed theologian Michael Horton of Westminster Theological Seminary concluded that “calling bad news [i.e.

JDDJ] good news is destructive of … the prospects for genuine long-term ecclesiastical reconciliation.” 6

While sharp critiques from conservative Protestants in the United States did not constitute a hot news flash, the reaction of over two hundred Lutheran theologians in Europe (primarily from German universities) was somewhat of a surprise. Prior to the signing of JDDJ they issued a “Position Statement of Theological Instructors” which set forth seven points of objection to JDDJ. 7 Among the signatories were eighteen professors from the University of Tübingen (hardly a bastion of cons...

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