Protestant or Reformational Catholic

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart has an interesting piece on The End of Protestantism where he argues that we should think of ourselves not as anti-Catholic Protestants, but instead as Reformational Catholics.

Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.

I’ve argued in EvTh for a “Evangelical Catholicism,” taking cue from Kevin Vanhoozer and his articulation of it. I think we still have a Protest against the Roman Catholic Church – only place I’ll do a “Hail Mary” is on a football field – but it is a church that is still our estranged Mother.

Though a response comes from R. Scott Clark at the Heidelblog who questions Leithart’s credentials as a “Federal Vision” proponent and because some of the Reformed confessions call the Catholic church a sect.

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  • Arthur Davis

    Thanks heaps for sharing this, Mike. It fills what I think is a quite obvious need because, as Protestants today, we generally don’t seem to care much at all about the other branches of Christianity, and if we do, it’s with an air of suspicion and dismissiveness. You’ve gotta wonder what it is we think we’re reforming — if we even use that language any more!

    What also interests me is that the traditional three-way conceptualisation of Christianity has already become inadequate. “Reformational Catholic / Evangelical Catholicism” comes at the same time as missiologists are telling us that the world Christian movement has already developed an embryonic “fourth branch” which has no real ties with the historical Protestant movement, and cannot be understood as “default Protestant”. And this “fourth branch” is now the second largest Christian megabloc, second only to Roman Catholic. (There’s a section on this in Tim Tennent’s missions text, for example.)

  • pduggie

    RSC has to have a google alert for any mention of PL. That and a macro that cuts and pastes his generic criticisms.

  • Alastair J Roberts

    While I think that his response is overstated and that Leithart lands some important blows, Fred Sanders has some good thoughts here –

  • Jim Byrne

    Did the name “protestant” really originate out of “protest,” or out of confessing evangelical faith?

  • SKPeterson

    This terminology has been used by Lutherans to describe the Lutheran churches for years. Okay, about 500 years, but who’s counting?

  • Kenton Slaughter

    It seems that both “Protestant” and “Reformational Catholic” are still subject to the same problem: they are defined solely within the context of the Catholic/Orthodox divide. For example, Protestant doctrines are still largely juxtaposed against Catholic doctrines. Case in point, the Reformed doctrine of justification is cast primarily as an apology against Catholic views of justification and its seemingly merit-based view of salvation. As a result, Pauline theology, and the gospel articulated within, are seen in the same light, and we have tended to treat the Scriptures as an extended proof against Catholic doctrine (see especially our view of the Law as such an apology).

    Regarding the Orthodox, I’ve encountered a number of people who regard the Orthodox churches as simply older Protestants: though they split over different reasons, they still left the Catholic churches. Obviously the reality of that divide is more complex, but it has been common to view the Catholic churches as the historic Church gone awry, the Orthodox churches as the schismatic Other, and the Protestant churches as the Reformers of the historic (Catholic) Church. Such a view is quite narrow.

    So I don’t think either title is particularly helpful, unless reconciliation (or assimilation) with Rome is Leithart’s primary goal. Going from anti-Catholic Protestant to pro-Catholic Protestant only goes so far in achieving unity. And there are pretty strong cases against reunification at this point.

  • Haven’t heard from Leithart or Clark since I read.
    A Faith That Is Never Alone: A Response to Westminster Seminary in California

    Have you read this Mike?

  • Allen Browne

    In re-evaluating how I understand my faith in relation to the Roman Catholic church, what I chose to do last year was to buy and read the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
    That might be really obvious, but it isn’t something I see recommended much. For me, it was the best way to grasp what Catholics believe and practice. It helped me clearly identify what I have in common and where the differences lie.