I have read a lot of Catholics (or Evangelicals that have converted to Catholicism) lately. So Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s book is a different take at Catholicism.
There are some great parts of this book and some weaker parts of this book. The weakest part is the back and forth discussion of the many discussions between Protestant denominations and Catholics. This was interesting, but repetitive; it seemed to just keep going on and on. Many of the issues between Protestants and Catholics keep coming up again and again. However, I do not know a better way to present the data, and it needed to be presented.
The discussion of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statements were more interesting. For one, there were a number of interviews with the participants. These were mostly high profile and interesting people. I was disappointed that Noll did not speak specifically of his involvement narratively. (He was one of the original signers.)
Noll brings the background of a historian. Early chapters are about historical background of the Catholic/Evangelical divide. And his historical background strongly influences the final assessment. Over and over again it is clear that while theological issues were and still are a significant issue between Protestants and Catholics, it is practical issues of church and practice that that will be most difficult to overcome. These two quotes are really the summary of the whole book.
For Catholics, the church constitutes believers; for evangelicals, believers constitute the church. For Catholics, individual believers are a function of the church; for evangelicals, the church is a function of individual believers.
Theologically considered, the recent engagement of evangelicals and Catholics testifies to a significant confluence of opposites. Catholics, whose ecclesiology is so high that the church as an institution is integral to its understanding of the gospel, and evangelicals, whose ecclesiology is so low that the church is often forgotten in their proclamation of the gospel, have been backing toward each other in a world where the gospel itself has become a costly commodity. In this awkward dance, many Catholics and evangelicals have bumped into each other, back to back. What should they do when they turn and try to ponder what to make of these others who seem so obviously to be honoring the gospel but in such strange terms, with such strange practices, and in such strange conjunction with other Christian realities?
It is a rare book that I say that the appendix is one of the best parts of the book. Noll and Nystrom tell us what we should be reading to move forward.
Noll is one of those Evangelicals that is behind closer relationships between Catholics and Evangelicals and this book strongly shows that. If you are interested in the issues between Catholics and Evangelicals, without glossing over real theological and practical issues, this is a book you should pick up.
And if you have a kindle the price of Is The Reformation Over? has been dropping. As of now it is only $5.79.
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- The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Marshall (bookwi.se)
- The Unity Factor: One Lord, One Church, One Mission by John Armstrong (bookwi.se)
- Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction by Mark Noll (bookwi.se)