by J. Ronald Blue
The new universalism of the Roman Catholic Church provides a starting point for a new Dallas Seminary course.
He took a paper napkin from the table, pulled a ballpoint pen from his pocket, and began to sketch out the difference between pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, Dr. Francisco LaCueva, a converted Roman Catholic priest, drew a vertical line on the napkin, "Prior to the second Vatican Council" he explained, "only those of the Roman Catholic Church were within God’s grace." He jotted the letters "R.C." on one side of the line, "Everyone else, including the well-meaning but deluded Protestants were outside." He wrote the word "anathema" on the other side of the line.
"After Vatican II," Dr. LaCueva continued, "the whole scene changed." He began drawing concentric circles. "The Roman Catholic Church forms the inner circle." He put the letters "R.C." in the small circle he drew on the napkin. "But there is a larger circle. These are the Protestants and Orthodox Christians who are considered "separated brethren."
Another larger circle took shape on the napkin. "These are the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and others who have a concept of God, Then there is a larger circle. These are the agnostics and atheists." As he penned the words "agnostic" and "atheist" in the sweeping circle that encompassed the other three, Dr. LaCueva concluded, "No one is outside God’s grace according to post-Vatican II teaching. Everyone is saved."
The new universalism of the Roman Catholic Church provides a starting point for a new Dallas Seminary course designed to acquaint students with contemporary Catholicism and thus to make them more effective in ministry to Roman Catholic people. Although the major dogmas of the Catholic Church remain unchanged, the approach to people outside Catholicism has changed dramatically. There is a new openness that is both refreshing and revolutionary. This requires careful research and response on the part of evangelicals.
Our course revolves around the investigation and evaluation of three major developments in the church in the last two decades.
First, the documents of Vatican II are explored. The translation of the documents by Abbott is utilized rather than that by Flannery, primarily because Abbott is the version Roman Catholic writers employ and because it includes information on how each document evolved during the council proceedings, Abbott also contains some intriguing responses by a variety of non-Roman Catholic writers at the conclusion of each document.
It is amazing how few evangelical leaders, even those serving in predominantly Roman Catholic areas, have taken the time to read these historic documents. The doors and windows have been opened wide and a fresh breeze is blowing through the musty corridors of the old cathedral of traditional Catholicism. The documents of Vatican II merit conscientious study.
Second, the Catholic charismatic renewal movement is considered. Originally referred to as the "pentecostal movement" in the Roman Catholic Church, the "charismatic renewal" has drawn over 200,000 members since its birth at Duquesne and Notre Dame in the turbulent Sixties. The works of O’Conner, perhaps the most authoritative Catholic participant and analyst of the movement, serve as the primary source for this inquiry, but other works, including the recent volume by sociologists Bord and Faulkner, are consulted also.
Many Roman Catholics have come to a full personal trust in Christ through the renewal movement, but the movement continues to emit confusing signals. Some claim a deepened devotion to the Holy Virgin as a result of their experience of tongues speaking. Not a few evangelicals have been too quick to equate "renewal" with "rebirth" and "spiritual fervor" with "saving faith." The question is not, Does a Catholic trust Christ? but, Does he have all of his trust in Christ for salvation?
Third, a full investigation of liberation theology is included. Liberation theology, a strange mixture of Marxist ideologies and Christianity, is generally traced to the 1968 conference of Roman Catholic bishops in Medellin, Colombia, Since its emergence in Latin America, liberation theology has found wide acceptance throughout the "two-thirds world." Gutierrez is considered the leading spokesman and therefore his book, A Theology of Liberation, is used as the primary text for this study.
Actually, liberation theology is a socio-economic-political treatise with only a slight gloss of theology. The focus is on social sins rather than personal sin, salvation is equated with liberation, God is reduced to a force found in all mankind (panentheism), and the church is to be a revolutionary force to overthrow present economic and political structures and usher in a new socialistic-communistic state (utopianism).
The investigation of the three areas of study listed above is accomplished with original sources. Far too often evangelicals consult what others say about new movements rather than consider the best presentations by the leaders in those movements. A full appreciation and understanding is achieved by studying the leading spokesmen and, through biblical analysis, the student is better equipped to deal with Roman Catholics who are involved with, or influenced by, these contemporary movements. Conclusions drawn are then tested in direct consultation with Roman Catholic parishioners and priests in the Dallas area. All the reading in the world does not produce the impact that the contacts with these people have provided.
Never in the history of the Christian church have such unprecedented days of opportunity been afforded evangelicals to reach out to Roman Catholics. Catholics are more open today than ever before to move from mere religious allegiance to a growing, vibrant relationship with the Lord. This course is an attempt to produce sensitive and knowledgeable workers to lead in the process of bringing more and more Roman Catholics into God’s circle of assurance, faith, and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
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