"That they may have life" – Evangelicals and Catholics Together

I said the other day I would give a short review of the new Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement “That they may have life”.

Well, I’ve read it (yes, on the beach again), and I can’t say I’m bowled over by it. It isn’t really very significant ecumenically. It doesn’t break any new ground as far as working out an agreed basis for Catholic and Evangelical pro-life ethics. I mean, we already know that Catholics and Evangelicals are agreed on anti-abortion.

I was slightly interested by the way it began by addressing “those who do not identify with our communities, or with any Christian community” and went on to claim that it would approach the subject on the basis of “a common humanity” and “a Godgiven capacity to reason, to argue, to deliberate, to persuade, and to discover moral truths regarding questions related to the right ordering of our life together.” OK, I thought, so this is rather going to be a joint appeal addressing those outside the Evangelical and Catholic pro-life circles on the basis of rational argumentation. Good.

But what passes for civic discussion and discourse on the basis of reason in the good ol’ US of A is obviously different from the rest of the world.

First, make no mistake that this document is firmly addressed to Americans. They talk about “sustaining the American experiment”, quote “the Declaration of Independance”, propose “to all Americans” that they join in the discussion. But hey, that’s OK, they are, after all, Americans.

More disconcerting is the fact that they can’t really decide who their audience is. Is it non-Christians who need to be persuaded by reason, or is it Christains who will be persuaded by biblical arguments from the commandments and the gospel? They have logical argumentation for the first audience and biblical references for the second, but they mix them up into a rather unconvincing conglomerate. Arguments puporting to be based on pure reason end up using biblical proof texts as their main support. Maybe this works in America. It won’t cut much ice anywhere else.

There are some good bits. They do talk about the difference between the Protestant and Catholic assessments of reason.

“We also affirm together that human reason, despite the consequences of sin, has the capacity for discerning, deliberating, and deciding the questions pertinent to the civil order. Some Evangelicals attribute this capacity of reason to “common grace,” as distinct from “saving grace.” Catholics typically speak of the “natural law,” meaning moral law that is knowable in principle by all human beings, even if it is denied by many (Romans 1 and 2). Thus do we, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, firmly reject the claim that disagreements over the culture of life represent a conflict between faith and reason. Both faith and reason are the gift of the one God. Since all truth has its source in Him, all truth is ultimately one, although our human perception of the fullness of truth is partial and inadequate (1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus do we invite those who disagree, including those who do not share the gift of faith in Christ, to join with us in attempting to move beyond “culture wars” to a reasonable deliberation of the right ordering of our life together.”

There is much here that accords with the Pope’s argument in the Regensburg lecture, but I rather feel that the statements by the Pope on the essential place of Hellenistic culture and philosophy in Christianity would not get much support from the Evangelical signatories to this new ECT statement.

Perhaps that is the problem with the document as a whole. They couldn’t decide who they were addressing, and they couldn’t agree on the method by which to make their argument–faith or philosophy. Perhaps too this is why there is no agreement in this document on “the moral permissibility of artificial contraception”.

Ah well. If nothing else, “That they may have life” is a demonstration of the comeradery that has emerged from the “ecumenism of the trenches” in the ever continuing Culture Wars.

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