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Hans Boersma Invited to Join Evangelicals & Catholics Together Dialogue

October 26, 2015
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Hans Boersma has been appointed a member of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) project. The dialogue partners of ECT meet twice a year in New York as they discuss topics of mutual significance, leading to public statements. We asked Hans to tell us more about this initiative.

What exactly is the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project?

It’s a project started by Richard John Neuhaus (Catholic) and Charles Colson (evangelical) in 1992, in hopes of overcoming some of the unfortunate tensions between the two theological traditions. The discussions and resulting statements aim not to ignore theological differences between Catholics and evangelicals, but they do hope that these differences can be seen in proper perspective, and they do try to arrive at greater spiritual unity between the two traditions.

The discussions are also the result of the recognition that Catholics and evangelicals have a great deal in common, especially with regard to social issues such as the defense of the sanctity of life (issues such as abortion and euthanasia) and traditional marriage. Charles Colson famously referred to this as “ecumenism of the trenches.”

Who are some of the other key players in this conversation?

From the outset, Dr. J. I. Packer has been involved in this ecumenical endeavour. This has led to sharp criticism of Dr. Packer in some evangelical circles; at the same time, his involvement has done much to give credence to the viability of theological discussion between Catholics and evangelicals. The current flourishing of dialogue between Catholics and evangelicals would have been unthinkable without ECT and without Dr. Packer’s involvement in it.  

Some other well-known representatives from the evangelical side have been Mark Noll, Richard Mouw, Thomas Oden, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Timothy George. Some of the Catholic theologians involved include Fr. Avery Dulles, George Weigel, Matthew Levering, and Fr. Thomas Guarino.

For further reading, a helpful resource can be found in Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), p. 151-183.

What are the most significant public statements that the ETC has issued thus far?

The dialogue partners of ECT meet twice a year in New York as they discuss topics of mutual significance, leading to public statements. The most recent ECT statement came out this past February in First Things: “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage.” It is a solid and courageous document, which upholds the complementarity of male and female as being "among the central organizing principles of creation.” The document cautions against a “contraceptive mentality” and the notion of “sex as purely recreational.” It also repudiates same-sex marriage and encourages "fellow Christians to stand firm in obedience to Christ, for that obedience is the most compassionate service we can offer society.”

ECT’s most significant publication was perhaps “The Gift of Salvation” (1997), which deals with the doctrine of justification. It affirms that justification is not something “earned by any good works or merits of our own,” while also acknowledging that salvation is a process that takes place throughout a person’s life.

What's next?

The next topic of discussion at ECT meetings, which take place in December 2015, concerns “What Christianity Is.” I try to go into this dialogue process with an open heart, as well as with open eyes, and I am keen to see where God’s Spirit will lead these discussions. One of the encouraging elements of this dialogue is that a number of the people involved know each other already, so there is a level of trust at a personal level, and recognition of each other as children of God. To be sure, the theological differences between Catholics and evangelicals are real, and in some ways substantial. At the same time, when we think back to where the dialogue began in the early 1990s, there is reason for gratitude when you think of how much openness and mutual acceptance has been gained. At the very least, I hope that this process of recognition and cooperation will continue and will be strengthened.

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