On the flight back from Athens last week, I sat in front of a gregarious Irish gentleman. He was a medical doctor in Dallas, but didnâ€™t even come close to losing his native accent. We talked theology most of the flight.
He was fascinated by CSNTMâ€™s work of photographing ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. And he was a good student of church history. This gentleman affirmed a lot of my most precious beliefs: Jesus Christ, the theanthropic person, died for our sins and was bodily raised from the dead; by putting our faith in him we are savedâ€”indeed, we are saved exclusively by Godâ€™s grace; thereâ€™s nothing that we can bring to the table to aid in our salvation. The good doctor called himself an evangelical. And he also called himself a Roman Catholic.
To some evangelicals, as soon as they hear that one is a Roman Catholic that immediately excludes such a person from the Pearly Gates. To some Catholics, once they hear that a person is an evangelical, they have the same posture. I wonder if part of the reason for this black-and-white view of salvation is due to a radical, unreflective commitment to oneâ€™s tradition. I am a Protestant and an evangelical. I used to think that if someone did not fit within those two labels, he was eternally damned. But part of my reasoning was that since I thought that the evangelical faith was 100% correct, any deviation from it was 100% wrong. The problem with that approach is that many other Christian groups believe in a lot of what evangelicals believe. Obviously, I canâ€™t say that someone who believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ is 100% wrong! Yet, the three major branches of Christendom all embrace the truths that Jesus Christ is fully God, that he died for our sins, that he was raised from the dead, and that we are saved by Godâ€™s grace alone through faith. Thereâ€™s so much right with other groups that itâ€™s impossible to claim that theyâ€™re all wrong!
As I suggested in my last blog, Iâ€™m questioning some of the tenets of Protestantism and evangelicalism. That doesnâ€™t mean that Iâ€™m questioning the whole thing; I still believe that the evangelical faith is the best expression of genuine Christianity today. But I also believe that it is flawed and that we can learn from Catholics and Orthodox. And just as it is possible for someone to be saved and be an evangelical, I think itâ€™s possible for someone to be saved and be a Catholic or eastern Orthodox. So, Iâ€™m still at least 51% Protestant (and Luther is still a hero of mine), but I have no qualms criticizing my own tradition and exploring what we can learn from others.
This, of course, raises a significant issue: If the theological distinctions between Catholics, Orthodox, and evangelicals donâ€™t define the boundaries of heaven and hell, then what do they do? What is the value of such distinctions? What purpose do they serve?
Daniel B. Wallace