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Yes. You heard it right. The Archibishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, will be speaking at Wheaton College next month in an ecumenical dialogue. Although Wheaton is not sponsoring the event, they have graciously allowed ACT3 (who is sponsoring the event) to gather at the Edman Chapel for this land-breaking event.
My friend John Armstrong (president of ACT3) who recently published a book on Christian unity (Your Church is Too Small) is continuing his conversation with the archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George. The only difference is, now the conversation is going public and will be taking place in a public format at Wheaton College on March 26th, 7:00pm at the Edman Chapel.
If I were in Chicago, I would be nowhere else. But since I’m not, I will be viewing the event live from home via the internet by going to WETN, since they are vodcasting it live.
UPDATE: You can now view the dialogue at ACT3.
John H. Armstrong has launched a new website for his life-wrought book, Your Church Is Too Small, and you can actually read the forward (written by J.I. Packer) at this website. NOTE: This book is going to be huge in its impact; I have blogged about this book before.
Scot McKnight has already blogged once about this book at Jesus Creed. He ends with a question addressed to John.
On this new website, you can 1) get an overview of the book and read endorsements, 2) pre-order the book, 3) follow the new blog, 4) sign up for a FREE (yeah … that’s right) Conference around the book’s ideas.
Here is some of J.I. Packer’s forward:
My friend John Armstrong is a church leader who has traveled the distance from the separatist, sectarian fixity of fundamentalism to embrace the kingdom-centered vision of the church and the call issued by a number of Bible-based theologians and missiologists during the past half century.
What vision is this? It is the one that views the visible church as a single worldwide, Spirit-sustained community within which ongoing doctrinal and denominational divisions, though important, are secondary rather than primary. In this vision, the primary thing is the missional-ecumenical vocation and trajectory crystallized for us by our Lord Jesus Christ in his teaching and prayer and illustrated in a normative way by the Acts narrative and much of the reasoning of the apostolic letters.
Evangelicals have always urged that the church of God is already one in Christ but have typically related this fact only to the invisible church (that is, the church as God alone sees it). All too often, they have settled for division in the visible church (the church on earth, as we see it) as at least tolerable and at best healthy. The vision Armstrong offers, however, perceives by exegesis that the unity of Christians, which Jesus prayed that the world might see, is neither unanimity nor uniformity nor union (as he neatly puts it) but loving cooperation in life and mission, starting from wherever we are at the moment and fertilized and energized by the creedal and devotional wisdom of the past. Thus the internal unity of togetherness in Christ may become a credibility factor in the church’s outreach, just as Jesus in John 17 prayed that it would.
Embracing this vision will mean that our ongoing inter- and intra-church debates will look, and feel, less like trench warfare, in which both sides are firmly dug in to defend the territory that each sees as its heritage, and more like emigrants’ discussions on shipboard that are colored by the awareness that soon they will be confronted by new tasks in an environment not identical with what they knew before. There they will all need to pull together in every way they can. The church in every generation voyages through historical developments and cultural changes, against the background of which new angles emerge on old debates and truths may need to be reformulated in order to remain truly the same as they were. Not to recognize this is a defect of vision on our part.
You can read the rest of the forward here: yourchurchistoosmall.com.
Justification, for Barth, is unconditional divine pardon. Because Barth’s doctrine of election reduced the total number of both all elect and reprobate persons down to one, Jesus Christ, the God-man is really the only one who is justified as well as condemned. Because Jesus Christ as the elect and reprobate one represents all of humanity, however, Christ’s history becomes the history of all people. In this way only are all people also derivatively both elect and reprobate. However, because God’s No in reprobation is ultimately just a subcategory or phase of his Yes in election, which Yes is more ultimate, “there is not one” who is not elect, justified, and ultimately pardoned.
In spite of this apparent universal soteriological framework, Barth denied that he ever taught universal salvation and emphasized that the freedom of God keeps us from presuming that God’s grace will ultimately pardon all. Differences of opinion are held on the question of whether his denial makes his views incoherent, or whether his denial is compatible with his theological position.
Although Barth places importance on the doctrine of justification, he does not believe it is the Word of the gospel per se, for it is one among many aspects of soteriology and should not have a monopoly in soteriologial frameworks. In the end, it is not the articulus stantis et cadentis acclesia. Although Barth emphasizes that faith is not God’s chosen instrument for “realizing” one’s justification because of any virtue that it’s nature entails (such as notitia, assensus or fiducia), he goes futher than the Reformers by denying that one’s justification is in any way dependant on this human response. Justification is realized by faith, not actualized.
Barth’s doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in discussions between Protestants and Catholics about areas of continuity between Protestant and Catholic doctrines of justification. This appropriation of Barth is largely due to the work of the Swiss theologian Hans Küng. Discussion surrounding Protestant and Catholic views of justification that were influenced by Küng’s approach to Barth’s doctrine have culminated in some of the most impressive ecumenical achievements this side of the Reformation, although such achievements are not appreciated by all.
Barth’s Christocentrism is a good example of why he finds appreciation among conservative Protestantism, yet his universalism is a good example of why conservative Protestants are also ambivalent toward his system as a whole. His willingness to engage scripture and traditional church dogma makes his writing intriguing to those who take the Bible seriously, yet his highly eccentric formulations make him difficult to understand, leave him vulnerable to the charge of incoherency, and for more conservative evangelicals who hold to classic doctrines of reprobation and hell, hard to believe.
In spite of Barth’s attempt to take a hard-line protestant stance on the doctrine of justification—even going into long polemical tirades in his Church Dogmatics—nevertheless, his doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in ecumenical discussions between Protestants and Catholics. The foremost interpreter of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification in this regard is the Swiss theologian Hans Küng, who attempted to show that Barth and the council of Trent were in basic agreement on all the crucial questions surrounding the doctrine of justification. Barth freely conceded that Küng had done justice to all of the contours of his views on justification. In a letter to Küng, which eventually became a part of the preface to Küng’s book on justification, Barth said:
I here gladly, gratefully and publicly testify not only that you have adequately covered all significant aspects of justification treated in the ten volumes of my Chruch Dogmatics published so far, and that you have fully and accurately reproduced my views as I myself understand them; but also that you have brought all this beautifully into focus through your brief yet precise presentation of details and your frequent references to the larger historical context.
That Barth’s doctrine of justification would ever be used in such a fashion was baffling to him, yet at the same time, delightfully intriguing.
What I say about justification—making allowances for certain precarious yet not insupportable turns of phrase—does objectively concur on all points with the correctly understood teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. You can imagine my considerable amazement at this bit of news; and I suppose that many Roman Catholic readers will at first be no less amazed … All I can say is this: If what you have presented in Part Two of this book is actually the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, then I must certainly admit that my view of justification agrees with the Roman Catholic view; if only for the reason that the Roman Catholic teaching would then be most strikingly in accord with mine!
After reading Küng’s treatment of justification, Barth came to believe that he had so strongly denunciated the Catholic position on justification because he had so woefully misunderstood it. Barth was, however, aware that perhaps in spite of the fact that Küng had flawlessly interpreted his own teaching, the ecumenical discussions would not be received well by the Catholic Church. Although he was warmly open to Küng’s work, he was not as certain of Küng’s interpretation of the Catholic position as he was of Küng’s interpretation of his own position: “Of course, the problem is whether what you have presented here really represents the teaching of your Church. This you will have to take up and fight out with biblical, historical, and dogmatic experts among your coreligionists.”
This Küng did, but the results were disappointing. The attitude of the Catholic Church up to this point had been to assume that since the doctrine of justification was the main reason for the Protestant split from Catholicism (notwithstanding other disagreements), if one could show that a basic agreement existed between Protestant teachings and Catholic teaching, this would cancel the largest motivating factor for division. But once Küng had given the most persuasive demonstration of such essential continuity, the Catholic church quickly altered their stance, arguing, in effect, “Only when the church’s claims of truth, leadership, and hierarchy are settled can we then draw consequences from the doctrine of justification.” When Küng’s hopes for a substantial reassessment of the justification doctrine were largely ignored in the Vatican II council meetings, Küng followed the Vatican meetings with a critical eye. Disheartened, he concluded that “pope and curia [the papal court] were not willing to accept the critical challenge.”
In spite of the apparent initial disinterest of the Catholic Church, we can only predict that were Barth alive today he would be pleased to find, like Hermann Häring, that Küng’s thesis has had the last laugh. Küng’s approach to the ecumenical dialogue over justification appears to have had a major influence in approach to Protestant-Catholic dialogue which has culminated in what might be considered the most significant ecumenical achievement in Post-Reformation times.
So far his book on justification is not outdated. Better yet, his thesis of that time has received a late justification. Everyone today agrees that the doctrine of justification no longer divides confessions. Differentiating exegetical as well as theological and dogmatic research has strongly confirmed that notion, especially the studies about the Council of Trent. … Since 1999, the state of discussion can be easily and accurately shown in the Joint Declaration of Augsburg with its highly detailed style. … [A]ll seven problem areas, the points of agreement as well as continuing disagreement are meticulously listed. Each single time, however, the conclusion is drawn that the differences no longer warrant a church division.
Not everyone, however, has been as optimistic about the viability of the ecumenical discussions that took place over the similarities between Barth’s doctrine of justification and the Catholic position as interpreted by Hans Küng. Alister McGrath, for example, grants that Küng has at least shown that Barth and Trent are both anti-pelagian, but he censures the hype over Küng’s thesis as reflecting failure to recognize the difference between agreement over how man is justified—by grace through Christ—and what justification actually is.
However, the Council of Trent (1543-63) specifically anathematized a series of propositions which it considered Pelagian. The result is, as Küng has shown, that both Karl Barth and Trent teach a strongly anti-Pelagian Christocentric doctrine of justification. Nevertheless, the question of how man is justified before God does not exhaust the question of justification. … [I]t is highly doubtful whether Küng has demonstrated anything other than that Barth and Trent both hold that justification is primarily a divine act arising through the work of Christ. There are at least four areas in which Barth and Trent are in serious disagreement: namely, the nature of justification ; the freedom of the will; the nature of election ; and the assurance of salvation. Küng fails to ask the crucial question, which is this: What do Barth and Trent have in common that Calvin and Trent do not also have in common? The answer to this question is that Barth and Trent have considerable less in common than Calvin and Trent. … What does it mean to say that a man is justified? It is a trivial matter for Roman Catholic, Anglican and Reformed theologians to agree that man is justified by a divine act of grace through Christ, for to fail to accept this would be to deny the doctrine of their churches as laid down by the Council of Trent, Orange II, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the various confessions of the Reformed churches. … But what is the difference between the unjustified and the justified? What happens in justification? What is justification? It is one thing to agree how something occurs; it is quite another to agree on what the entity in question actually is.
McGrath also believes that Küng “confuses the matter by introducing modern Roman Catholic scholars, whose teaching counts as theological opinion, and not as the authoritative teaching of the Church.”
It is our contention that Küng, by presenting the more theocentric, Bible-oriented section of opinion within Roman Catholicism, and by presenting only those aspects of Barth’s theology of justification which are capable of harmonization with this section, has not represented the true state of affairs. This does not mean that Küng has misrepresented Barth’s theology of justification: rather, we are of the opinion that he has been unduly selective.
Because of the prominent role that Barth’s doctrine has played in the ecumenical discussions, Catholics and Protestants argue over whether Barth’s doctrine was more Catholic in orientation or more Protestant. Bruce L McCormack takes issue with Douglas Harink’s claim that “Barth’s doctrine of justification anticipated in all its essential features Harink’s own version of Paul’s teaching on this subject.” He argues that the defining element of the Calvinistic Protestant doctrine of justification is John Calvin’s notion of double imputation—specifically the notion of an alien righteousness outside of us (extra nos)—that came out of the Osandrian controversy in 1551. The intention of this defining element was to free the grounds of justification from anything God does in us (in nobis)—even if it is by grace—under the conviction that it would undermine Christian assurance.
Barth’s justification is forensic through and through, McCormick argues. In Barth, justification does not occur through the faith of the one justified but in eternity past and consists primarily, as we have already noted, in acquittal. Justification takes place in Christ because it is in Christ that God restores his own righteousness by destroying both sin and the sinner. The justification of man is really Christ’s justification in Barth’s forensic framework. In Barth faith is merely our becoming aware of our justification, not even an instrumental cause. Thus, McCormack concludes that Barth’s doctrine of justification is not only protestant, but radically so, for not even our faith makes it effective for us; only Christ’s faithfulness, death, and resurrection makes justification effective. “Christ’s history is as such our history … [and] participation in Christ is not something that has first to be realized by means of an independent work of the Holy Spirit, but is already real even as the God-man carries out his work.” Barth sees both our being and God’s being “constituted by way of anticipation” in His eternal decision of the covenant of grace in which the God-man takes God’s reprobation and we get God’s mercy. Just because Barth does not use the language of imputation does not remove the element from the heart of his doctrine, McCormack argues, only in his doctrine imputation does not occur at a moment in time when the believer puts his faith in Christ. Rather, it happens in eternity past.
Although Barth’s doctrine has perhaps caused more openness between Protestants and Catholics towards fruitful ecumenical discussion, this has not taken place without serious controversy over whether this should have ever taken place, whether it reflects true agreement between essentials of Protestant and Catholic teaching on justification or naïvety. If nothing else, Küng has inspired a new approach to ecumenical theology that relishes in the areas of continuity between Barth (and Calvin for that matter) and Trent. Whereas Protestants and Catholics in time past were more narrowly aiming their energies at polemical writings that emphasized the areas of disagreement between them, Küng’s interpretation of Barth has caused a shift in focus on appreciation for elements that are similar.
 Karl Barth, “A Letter to the Author,” in Hans Küng’s Justification (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John KnoxPress, 2004), lxvii-lxviii.
 “I have been guilty of a thoroughgoing misunderstanding and, consequently, of a thoroughgoing injustice regarding the teaching of your Church, especially that of the Fathers of Trent.” Ibid., lxviii.
 Hermann Häring, “Justification: Then and Now,” trans. Katharina Gustavs, in Justification, xxii.
 Ibid. Häring seems to imply that this was part of the reason Küng ultimately denied papal infallibility, for which the Vatican rescinded his authority as a teacher of Catholic theology.
 Ibid. xxv.
 Alister McGrath, “Justification—’Making Just’ or ‘Declaring Just’?: A Neglected Aspect of the Ecumenical Discussion on Justification,” Churchman, vol 96 no 1 (1982): 44-45.
 Alister McGrath, “Justification: Barth, Trent, and Küng,” Scottish Jounral of Theology, vol 34 no 6 (1981): 525.
 Ibid., 527.
 Bruce L. McCormack, “Justitia aliena: Karl Barth in Conversation with the Evangelical Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L McCormack (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 168.
 Ibid., 191.
Dinner, Discourse, and Dialogue
John H. Armstrong
About John H. Armstrong
John. H. Armstrong’s forthcoming book Your Church is Too Small sets the stage for a new discussion among Christians about the possibility of all gospel believing churches being more united in their witness and mission for the sake of the gospel. Come hear him speak about the sectarian ideology that prevents Christians from having a more united witness and common mission for the sake of the Christian gospel.
Former pastor and church planter, well known Christian author, conference speaker, and graduate professor at Wheaton College Gradate School, John H. Armstrong is now founder and president of ACT 3, a ministry for the advancement of the Christian Tradition in the third millennium.
We will be meeting in the college room (4th Floor) of the Sanctuary Building. There will be a $5 cover charge for food, desert, and coffee.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions e-mail email@example.com or call 502.727.0995.
As I was cleaning my room today I listened to a lecture by Mark Dever, who did his Ph.D. at Cambridge on the Puritan Richard Sibbes. Richard was not like the other Puritans in that he did not ultimately break with the Church of England during the time of the great Exodus of Puritan preachers. Why? Because he believed that unity in the gospel was more important than correctness in the secondary matters. I was actually surprised to hear Mark Dever approve of Sibbes’ perspective, and challenge young evangelical ministers to recover the distinction between the essential (the gospel) and the non-essential. I agree with the spirit of Dever’s understanding as expressed in this lecture, only I wouldn’t confuse the basic gospel message with the doctrine of justification the way he does (see below). I believe Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians believe in the redemptive death, burial and resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ regardless of what their doctrine of justification might be.
“We must be united, Sibbes taught, and we must be united around the gospel.” – Mark Dever
“In Sibbes’ hand, the centrality of preaching was a force for unity, not for dissent. … And it did so exactly because whatever other problems the church might have had, it was a church committed to the Protestant—that is to say the Biblical—gospel, the good news of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. And to leave such a church, would be tantamount to rending Christ’s body.” – Mark Dever
“Sibbes knew that the main point is the reconciliation of man to God, which is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, preaching is more fundamental than polity. I could be convinced of congregationalism biblically, and convinced that the gospel is more important. One of the things that we as evangelicals must do is recover that territory in between essential and unimportant. … It’s a vast tract that we must recover for faithfulness to scripture. There could be many things that are important that are not essential. There could be things that are important that are not essential. And there could be things that are kind of important that are not essential. … But simply because something is not essential does not therefore mean it is unimportant. We need to recover this in our own reflection on our lives, reflection on scripture, and in our preaching in our churches. If we do we’ll easily understand how preaching is more fundamental to polity, and yet polity is not a matter to be disregarded.” – Mark Dever
—————————————HT: Good Soldiers
Tim Enloe entitled his post, “Nicholas of Cusa on Justification by Faith Alone,” giving me the impression that he thinks the Reformation doctrine sola fide was taught 30 years before Martin Luther by Nicholas of Cusa. Unfortunately, it appears to me to be a misunderstanding (read my comments in the thread). It really all depends on what you mean by sola fide, what you mean by justification, what you mean by faith alone, and how you understand the nature of justifying righteousness, whether you distinguish between present and future justification, etc. The doctrine of justification was not articulated exactly the same way by all the famous Reformers during the Reformation (read: they didn’t believe the same thing), although it was crystalized later in orthodox creeds. Much confusion surrounds the debates about sola fide and historical investigation is usually highjacked by people with noticeable agendas other than historical objectivity (and this is human nature).
John H. Armstrong just released news that Zondervan has agreed to publish his book Your Church is Too Small, a book he wrote before ever seeking publication. He said he wrote the book before making a deal for publication so that he would not have any pressure to conform its content to the pressure of a publisher. He is writing on a controversial topic among evangelicals. Here is an excerpt from his post on the book.
The thesis of the book is that we need a new reformation rooted in what I call missional-ecumenism. This “new” ecumenism would unite us spiritually and relationally in fresh and personal ways that could well become an instrument of God to spread the message of Christ’s kingdom far and wide. All of this is developed in a narrative that tells my own story and interacts warmly with a number of people and events over the last twenty years or so. (The next to last chapter is filled with stories of people and churches that have followed the thesis I present in the book.) The reading level ofYour Church Is Too Small is not academic and what academic arguments are made in the book are simply defined and clearly written. My target audience is not professors and scholars butministers and church leaders of all backgrounds. The book targets evangelical Protestants directly but it will be read with much joy by many Roman Catholics who share the same vision. There is not a shred of anti-Catholicism in the book. I also interact with the Orthodox very respectfully and with profound appreciation, even using doctrinal ideas from the East to make several important points about the Trinity and the divine energies.
——————————-HT: John H Armstrong———————————