Book Review: “Are We Together?” Eduardo Echeverria’s Catholic Analysis of Evangelical Protestants

Book Review: “Are We Together?” Eduardo Echeverria’s Catholic Analysis of Evangelical Protestants February 6, 2023

Eduardo J. Echeverria
Are We Together: A Roman Catholic Analyzes Evangelical Protestants
Hobe Sound, Florida: Lectio Publishing, 2022. Pp. 206
Paper. $21.75 ISBN 978-1-943901-24-01

Eduardo Echeverria’s book, Are We Together: A Roman Catholic Analyzes Evangelical Protestants, is a careful and charitable response to some recent Evangelical works against Roman Catholicism. Echeverria, holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (University of St. Thomas, Rome) and PhD in Philosophy (Free University, Amsterdam), and is professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. The author provides a great service to those interested in Catholic and Protestant ecumenical dialogue. In addressing the polemical works of Italian Evangelical theologian, Leonardo De Chirico, and the Baptist historical theologian, Gregg Allison, Echeverria produces a nuanced work that dispels some of the arguments levied by both Evangelicals, while also establishing a foundation for how to proceed with difficult inter-ecclesial conversations. The book is comprised of five chapters and a short Afterword.

Nota Bene: However, one of the first things to notice about Echeverria’s book is the subtitle, “A Roman Catholic Analyzes Evangelical Protestants.” It is important to note that Echeverria does not entitle the book, “A Roman Catholic Analyzes Evangelical Protestantism.” There are several reasons for this.

First, Roman Catholics have always been wise to the historical reality of the unwieldy and amorphous nature of “Protestantism” (and ever ready to point it out). While it may be possible to provide a critique of some form of mere Protestantism, there is no such thing as a perfect, concrete manifestation of that idea. Hence, it is the particular views of certain Protestants that are to be called into question. Second, Echeverria is clear in the book that he is only addressing the two, aforementioned theologians, who have written recent critiques of Catholicism. It is these Protestants and their arguments that the author is responding to.

Finally, it is clear from the outset that Echeverria is not critiquing a very particular kind of Protestantism, namely Reformed Protestantism. Rather, as an expert in Reformed theology, Echeverria draws deeply from some of its main thinkers, namely G.C. Berkouwer, Herman Bavinck, and, to a lesser extent, Abraham Kuyper, in order to make his counterpoints to De Chirico and Allison’s arguments. This approach is useful to Echeverria, in that he can dismantle some Protestant arguments by using the theological judgments of other Protestants. However, it does leave the door open for different kinds of critiques of Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholic theology, to include those of the Reformed theologians themselves.


The question that drives Echeverria is one of unity: “Are Roman Catholics and Evangelicals Together?” According to Vatican II the answer is “yes,” according to some Protestants “no” (3). While some Protestants say there is co-belligerency on social and moral issues, on the Gospel there is no alliance between Catholics and Protestants. Two Protestants who take up this line of thought are Leonardo De Chirico and Gregg Allison. In his analysis of de Chirico’s work, and Allison’s use of De Chirico, Echeverria intends to show where their arguments fail. He does so in a way that is charitable and which promotes good will between Catholics and Protestants. This good will, or, in the words of John Paul II, this “exchange of spiritual gifts,” is to be carried out as a “dialogue of love.” However, in love, truth must be spoken. As a Catholic committed to the fixed nature of essential theological claims, Echeverria wants to avoid any sense of theological relativism or “false irenicism.” Therefore, he also aims to defend the distinctive witness of the Catholic Church (6). However, this Catholic evangelism to Protestant “separated brethren” cannot be reduced to an inappropriate or unloving proselytizing (7-8).

Chapter 1: Incommensurability?

Chapter one focuses on epistemology and semantics. De Chirico argues that “Roman Catholicism is a complex yet coherent system that gives meaning to the words that are used.” (13) The system determines what the meaning of the words are. This suggests that while the Roman Catholic Church may use similar words as Protestants, the “worlds” that these words refer to are entirely distinct. This view is called “meaning holism,” and Echeverria challenges it, arguing that this type of meaning holism makes the two systems, Roman Catholic and Protestant, totally incommensurable. But, if the systems are incommensurable, then so are all the particulars of each system. This can lead to an “anti-realism” about truth (14), making truth claims dependent on their system, rather than on external facts, i.e., on their correspondence to reality. As such, “radical meaning holism and its implications” should be rejected by De Chirico and Allison (21).

Chapter 2: Ecumenicism

Chapter two is interested in the nature of ecumenical dialogue. There are different types of ecumenical engagement, some more fruitful than others. Echeverria draws from Kuyper’s view of inter-ecclesial dialogue and debate, adopting his Reformed principles. This view makes room for commensurability between theological systems, even where those systems may differ in particular theological claims (24-25). However, this kind of ecumenical spirit, also championed by John Paul II, does not compromise on the truth. There are real disagreements about God’s revelation, and no true unity can be achieved apart from Truth. Still, in the adjudication of revealed truths, some traditions have come closer to others in elaborating on those truths. Thus, there can be a genuine “exchange of gifts” between traditions.

This “commensurate plurality” or “receptive ecumenicism” offers an alternative to De Chirico and Allison’s a priori rejection of the entire Catholic system (31). De Chirico to a lesser degree, and Allison to a greater, seem to be ignorant of this Reformed approach to Catholicism, as well as to the Vatican II proclamations that relate to it. At the same time, it is the obligation of every Catholic to witness to the “fact” that the fulness of God’s Church and God’s means of salvation subsist within the Roman Catholic Church (52). Again, this obligation is due to the nature of truth, which is not system dependent, but a correspondence to reality.

Chapter 3: Scripture and Tradition

Chapter three focuses on the main source of conflict between Protestants and Catholics regarding theological authority. More specifically, it deals with a view of Catholic tradition that is no longer accepted by most Catholics, yet which De Chirico and Allison attack: the two-source theory of tradition (60). Everyone agrees that the Scriptures are a source of revelation: special, divinely inspired knowledge. However, is there a second source of revealed knowledge, an oral source, that is equal to Scripture and that the Catholic Church, being in succession to the Apostles, presides over? Older pre-Vatican II views argued yes. But the predominant post-Vatican II view is that there is not a second source of revealed knowledge. Rather, the oral tradition instead enables an interpretation of the Bible that is the correct and authoritative one. This authoritative interpretation is that of the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church with the Pope as its head. Thus, as Dei Verbum argues, there is no “ongoing source of revelation” (63), only the living, interpretive voice of the Church, which acts as servant to the revealed Word of God (64).

Allison argues, nevertheless, that this view reduces to a “solum Magisterium,” making “the Church’s teaching office the supreme norm of faith” (75). Echeverria counters, arguing that the Church’s authority is derivate from God and the Scriptures themselves. The Catholic Church’s authority is not “intrinsic,” to it,  it is bestowed upon it. The Magisterium’s role is to interpret, preserve and pass on what is revealed. Regarding the indefectiblity and infallibility of the Magisterium in carrying out this role, Echeverria makes two points. First, he questions the plausibility that sola Scriptura can “safeguard against hermeneutical individualism, subjectivism, sectarianism, in short, chaos” (79), and then goes on to argue that the Holy Spirit has endowed the Catholic Magisterium with an “infallible charism” (81), (see Matt 28:20, 16:18 and Jn 14:26, 16:13). This charism ensures the infallible teachings of Christ will never fail to be articulated, and re-articulated, for each generation. As such, the Catholic Church cannot “defect” from the truth of the Gospel (81).

Chapter 4: Evangelical Hermeneutics of Catholicism

The next two chapters deal with two “axioms” devised by De Chirico to explain the incommensurability between the Roman Catholic System and Protestantism. These form the theological core of the book.

The first of these is the Nature-Grace interdependence. De Chirico argues that the Catholic Church defends a form of “rigid Thomism” or, per Echeverria, a “Hard Dualism” (88) that separates the domains of the natural and super-natural to the point of where natural objects can attain their intended ends without any supernatural intervention. On Hard Dualism, grace adds to nature a new goal or end state, a spiritual one. Soft Dualism, alternatively, argues that grace simply perfects nature, so it can fulfill its natural ends.

These conflict with the “Occamist” (89) view [after William of Ockham], as apparently held by De Chirico and Allison. This view suggests created objects cannot attain their proper, natural ends as the creation is too devastated by the effects of sin. On this view, grace can do nothing with nature, it is too corrupted (89), and grace must bestow an entirely new nature.

[n.B. what follows is the most philosophically complex section of Echeverria’s book and might challenge most readers].

Echeverria argues for a position defended by Jaques Maritain, that grace restores nature to its original capacity, so that it might attain its originally intended ends. But this is not done from without, but from within (90). Nature is not entirely devastated, as Allison suggests, but nature requires grace to achieve that for which it is meant. Applied to man, this means that while man was originally designed to worship God, apart from Grace that designed capacity cannot function on its own (91), or, at least, not properly function on its own.

Echeverria argues that De Chirico and Allison have wrongly charged Roman Catholicism with maintaining a form of Hard Dualism, that would suggest human reason is “autonomous” and “self-sufficient.” This is a straw man, Catholic theologians like Etienne Gilson or Maritain have shown that a state of “pure nature” or “pure reason,” has never existed. However, neither is reason “obliterated” (98), as Allison and De Chirico suggest. Reformed theologians like Berkouwer, instead, argue that nature is not obliterated by sin. Some goodness in nature, and in human nature, remains in spite of sin’s effects, both morally and rationally. Allison especially reduces the Roman Catholic view to a kind of dualism, where man can have a saving knowledge of God based on general revelation alone. But this too is not the Catholic view, which maintains saving knowledge only through special revelation.

If sin affects every part of the human person, but not to the maximum degree, then grace, pace Allison, does have something to work with in nature. Reformed theologian, Al Wolters, agreeing with Echeverria, argues that what sin affects is only accidental to the human person (115-116). As such, yes, grace is needed to restore man to his proper functioning, but what is essential to him has not been lost. In sum, “Grace restores nature to function properly according to its divinely intended ends” (119), not to some merely natural end, nor to some end that it did not have prior to grace. The subject of the next chapter will be: via what medium does this restoring grace flow?

Chapter 5: Christ-Church Interconnection

How does grace restore nature? This is the subject of Chapter 5, which answers the other axiom De Chirico employs to critique the Roman Catholic system. According to De Chirico, and Evangelical theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, one of the biggest errors in Catholic theology is the conflation of the incarnate Christ with the Church itself. De Chirico calls this the “Christ-Church Interconnection,” or “the prolongation of the incarnation.” The primary mode of this confusion is the Catholic sacramental system. This challenge is grounded in the previous claim about the problematic relation between grace and nature. If the view of grace perfecting nature is problematic, then this problem follows (132).

Echeverria makes several counter-arguments. First, the ascension of the risen body of Jesus marks the end of His salvific mission on earth (136), i.e., it is the work of Jesus that saves. However, that mission is now continued by Christ through the Church. The Church is not identical to Jesus’ literal body, but it is via the Church that the salvation of Christ is communicated. Thus, Jesus’ body exists in Heaven with the Father, yet, per analogy, the Church is Christ’s body. As such, there is something Jesus has done, in His incarnate bodyand something Jesus is doing, in and through the “body” of the Church. Christ is now present in the world via the Church, embodied, but not prolongated, in this current mode of existence.

While Protestants are rightly concerned about “divinization of the Church,” which substitutes the Church for the Lord (145), this is not the Catholic teaching. The primary source of grace is God, and the Church’s role is only one of instrumental mediation and participation in that grace (145).

The main body of the book concludes with an extended treatment of the Roman Catholic sacramental system, which is the primary instrument, or delivery system, for Christ’s grace. There are three main views on the sacraments, a Zwinglian, a Reformed and a Roman Catholic. The more Zwinglian view, assumed by the likes of Allison, sees the sacraments as only symbols (reminders) of the grace that was mediated through the historical cross of Christ. The Reformed and Catholic views both see the sacraments as themselves actual means of grace. The difference between the two being the mode in which that grace is communicated.

The Reformed and Catholic positions, unlike the Zwinglian, are ones of sacramental “realism” (160-161). Regarding the Eucharist in particular, Berkouwer’s view suggests a “transignificaiton” and “transfinalization” of the elements (166), that is, the meaning and purpose of the natural substances change; from that of physical bread and wine and bodily nourishment, to that of spiritual presence and nourishment. However, the Reformed stop short at transubstantiation, the change of the natural substances to supernatural ones. But this rejection of substantial change denies the glorified Christ His genuine bodily presence in the world (170).

In his concluding remarks on the Eucharist, the center of Roman Catholic sacramental theology, Echeverria says Evangelicals are mistaken to charge the Catholic Church with confusing the ascended Christ with the Eucharist. Instead, the Eucharist is “a proleptic anticipation of what the Ascension means.” (170) Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and through the sacraments are the earthly and historical manifestations in the here and now of what we will eventually experience later in the heavenly places (170-171).


“Are we together?” According to Eduardo Echeverria, “yes, we are.” However, we are together in an imperfect way. There is a better foundation upon which to build our ecumenical dialogue, one of “receptive ecumenism,” that gives and receives spiritual gifts. However, this process is difficult, because proportional truth cannot be compromised to accommodate feelings of unity. Still, some of the charges by particular Evangelicals against Roman Catholicism, its view of Scripture and Tradition, its understanding of the relationship between nature and grace, and its teaching on the role of the Church as the Body of Christ, are unwarranted. Finally, if there is to be a debate between Roman Catholics and Protestants, it has to happen at the level of particular doctrines, not at the level of entire systems (181), a thesis which entails an incommensurability that will only ensure further antagonism between Protestants and Catholics.

The hope, in the end, is to work within the tension of faithfully carrying out Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:11,21 (v) while not compromising on the fixed and universal nature of truth.

It is not an easy task, but it is one worth pursuing.

Nota Bene

I am a former Roman Catholic now Evangelical. Like Echeverria, I too am committed to robust ecumenical dialogue, especially in today’s cultural moment. However, I do not agree with all of Echeverria’s conclusions in this book. Nevertheless, I have tried to faithfully represent his work and give the gist of his arguments. That said, this is a serious book of theology. To those interested in Roman Catholic and Protestant conversations that matter, and who enjoy the pursuit of theological knowledge, I wholeheartedly commend to you Echeverria’s work.

About Anthony Costello
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago to a devout and loving Roman Catholic family, I fell away from my childhood faith as a young man. For years I lived a life of my own design-- a life of sin. But, at the age of 34, while serving in the United States Army, I set foot in my first Evangelical church. Hearing the Gospel preached, as if for the first time, I had a powerful, reality-altering experience of Jesus Christ. That day, He called me to Himself and to His service, and I have walked with Him ever since. You can read more about the author here.

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