Discerning The Divide: A Review Article -- By: Scott M. Manetsch

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 28:1 (Spring 2007)
Article: Discerning The Divide: A Review Article
Author: Scott M. Manetsch


Discerning The Divide:
A Review Article

Scott M. Manetsch*

* Scott Manetsch is Associate Professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005. 272 pp. $24.99.

For nearly half a millennium, spiritual descendants of the Protestant Reformation have regularly considered, sometimes caricatured, and usually condemned aspects of Roman Catholic practice and theology. From Martin Luther’s conclusion that the office of the pope was the dreaded Antichrist, to George Whitefield’s description of distinctive Catholic doctrines as “abominations of the whore of Babylon,” to Lorraine Boettner’s judgment (in his classic study Roman Catholicism, 1962) that Catholicism “as a system” must be judged “a false church”—Protestants have repeatedly weighed Catholic belief on the scales of Scripture and found it wanting. This climate of suspicion has been fundamentally altered among many evangelical Protestants in the last several decades, however. It is this seismic shift in evangelical attitudes toward contemporary Roman Catholicism that Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom describe and evaluate in their book Is the Reformation Over? While acknowledging that several important theological differences still divide Catholics and evangelicals (most notably over the doctrine of the church), the authors argue that the dramatic rapprochement between these two traditional antagonists represents a historic reversal—indeed, “a genuine moment of grace in the long history of the church” (p. 31)— that ought to be welcomed by evangelicals. In section one, this review article will provide a detailed summary of Noll and Nystrom’s book. In section two, I will argue that several methodological, historical, and theological weaknesses diminish the book’s usefulness as a guide to the present state of Catholic-evangelical relationships.

I. Summary Of The Book

Noll and Nystrom begin with a montage of images and anecdotes that illustrate the dramatic new climate of goodwill that now exists between many evangelicals and Catholics. On college campuses, among social action groups, in the publishing and music industries, historic mistrust and antagonism between evangelicals and Catholics has been set aside for a spirit of cooperation and mutual support. Today, evangelical Protestants join with their Catholic neighbors in defending the rights of unborn children, receive inspiration from the music of Catholic artists such as the Franciscan monk John Michael Talbot, and glean spiritual wisdom...

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