A Dangerous Book or
a Faulty Review?
A Rejoinder to Robert Wilkin’s
Critique on A House United?
William D. Watkins
Vice President, Publishing
Liberty, Life and Family
Virginia Beach, VA
Abraham Lincoln once said, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”1 As I read Robert Wilkin’s review2 of Keith Fournier’s book A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together–A Winning Alliance for the 21st Century,3 a book I had a hand in producing, I had no doubt that Wilkin’s intentions were good. He clearly believed that this book (from here on referred to as AHU) presented an unbiblical view of the Gospel, clothed it in Christian-looking garb, and tried to present it as biblical to its readers. This, he believed, made the message of AHU “dangerous,” especially to “untaught believers” and others not “well-grounded in the Scriptures” (29). Despite, however, Wilkin’s heart to help, I believe his head missed the mark, thereby leaving his readers with little help in assessing the message of AHU and its value for the Body of Christ.
Before I move to my rejoinder of his review essay, I would like to thank him for giving me the opportunity in this journal to respond to his comments. Dialogue, particularly among God’s people, is imperative if we ever hope to learn what we hold in common and what we differ on and why.4 Too often we resort to diatribes based more on suspicion, misinformation, and fear than careful research, sound reasoning, and a recognition of the value and dignity of all human beings as creatures made as God’s image-bearers. As the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, Dr. Robert Wilkin, at least with me, has chosen to permit dialogue–Christian to Christian. For that I am grateful.
Now to my response.
To his credit, Wilkin strives to commend AHU in whatever ways he believes he can. He praises the book’s title and packaging, the propriety of including in an appendix the text of the 1992 accord “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” the book’s irenic spirit, and Fournier’s demeanor, social activism, unswerving commitment to “conservative morality,” and “drive to make a difference with his life” (12). He concludes, and accurately, that Keith Fournier comes across in the book as a person who would give Wilkin’s review “serious consideration” (12).5
Furthermore, Wilkin displays a desire to critique AHU rationally, biblically, and theologically. He seeks to avoid emotionalism and personal attacks.
Wilkin is also forthright about expressing and examining his deepest concern about AHU: its presentation of the Gospel. He believes that what AHU teaches about salvation is unbiblical because it corresponds to the Roman Catholic viewpoint. Therefore this is the issue on which he focuses, considering other matters less important than this one.
Once again, I commend Wilkin for these aspects of his review.
With these points made, I would like to express the major problems I have with Wilkin’s review. I have no intention of taking the article paragraph by paragraph, point by point, and detailing every jot and tittle with which I disagree. This rejoinder would be too long and tedious if I did that. Neither do I plan to defend the book’s author, Keith Fournier, and all his beliefs. For example, I will not address Wilkin’s objections regarding Fournier’s self-ascribed status as an evangelical Christian (16-18, 24), even though I believe his objections can be adequately answered. Nor will I respond to his assertion that Fournier is not a theologian (a conclusion, I suspect, built on a very narrow definition of theologian6). Fournier is quite capable of handling such matters on his own. Rather, my objective is twofold: (1) point out two errors Wilkin makes about me, and (2) respond to five major criticisms Wilkin makes of AHU.
A. Errors of a Personal Nature
1. Co-author or Writer?
Wilkin mistakenly refers to me as the “co-author” of AHU (28). If I were a co-author, the word andwould be found between Fournier’s name and mine on the book’s front cover, title page, and copyright page, but such is not found. Rather, with is used to link our names. The copy on the cover and title page reads “Keith A. Fournier with William D. Watkins,” and the copyright page specifies that the book is copyrighted in Fournier’s name only. These are common ways in which the publishing industry indicates authors and writers.
Another indication of Fournier’s sole authorship is his use of the first-person pronoun I when referring to himself. He never uses we in a context that would indicate the presence of another author.
In addition, when Fournier passes out acknowledgments, he refers to me as “my writing partner” who saw “this book through its many editions, helping me make its truths come alive.”7 In other words, I helped the author write his book. The book’s arguments, viewpoints, and outline are largely his. I made some contributions in these areas and facilitated the writing and editing of the entire book, but Fournier had to approve everything because the book is his from beginning to end.
My participation as writer does not mean that I agree with every position or argument presented in the book (though I do, in fact, agree with much of it). In my now sixteen years in the publishing industry, I have worked with many authors who have expressed perspectives with which I disagree. On the other hand, in all cases the authors were Christians who embraced one of the many traditions within the realm of Christian orthodoxy.8 Some of these traditions were Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical Free, Baptist, United Church of Christ, independent Bible, Bible Fellowship, Nazarene, Berean, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Foursquare Gospel, Evangelical Congregational, Evangelical Covenant, Mennonite, fundamentalist, pentecostal, dispensational, Anglican, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, and, yes, Roman Catholic. While working with adherents of these various traditions, I have learned a great deal about the breadth of Christian belief and practice, and I have grown to appreciate the church’s diversity in spiritual unity.
Because I believe these traditions are rooted in orthodoxy despite differences between them on significant theological and ecclesiastical issues, I have no problem working with believers from these traditions, including working with Keith Fournier, whom I also count as a friend and know to be an untiring Christian advocate for the Judeo-Christian world view.
2. Confused Protestant?
As evidence for his claim that “It is possible for a saved individual to convert to Catholicism,” Wilkin refers to me. He states, “I am convinced that . . . Bill Watkins . . . is in danger of doing that” (28). To support his conviction, he quotes portions of a September 1994 letter I wrote about my interest in Catholicism (28, fn. 36), then he concludes, “Christians can become confused and can join groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, that believe and teach a false gospel” (28). I readily admit Wilkin is right about two things: I have been saved by the grace of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ; and saved people can–and indeed do–convert to Catholicism. On the other counts, however, Wilkin is mistaken.
First, Wilkin wrongly assumes that my letter was meant for public disbursement. It was, as he says, “an open letter” (28, fn. 36), but he fails to note that I wrote it as “an open letter to my friends and to those of you who have influenced me the most.”9 I even opened my letter with the words “Dear Friend.” This should have clearly indicated to Wilkin, to whom I never sent a copy of this letter, that this letter was personal. While I am not embarrassed by the public dissemination of my letter, due to its personal nature Wilkin should have sought my permission to publish any comments from it.10
Second, Wilkin misrepresents what I said in my letter by failing to set the quoted comments in their proper and explicit context. I wrote this piece of correspondence to let my friends know where I was on my spiritual journey and to dispel a rumor that I had “decided to become a Roman Catholic.” I denied I had become a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and I even mentioned several aspects of Catholic thought with which I still had “lingering questions,” among which were some matters related to “soteriology.” From here I explained my draw to Catholicism and detailed some of my struggles with Protestant Reformed thought. It was in this context that I wrote, “At this point, I know I am neither Calvinistic nor Lutheran in my doctrinal bent. In some respects I find myself closer to Wesleyanism. I am also closer to the spirit and many of the conclusions of Catholic thought than I ever have been before. In fact, I prefer to refer to myself as a classical Christian than as an evangelical Protestant, though I do not disparage the latter label for myself or for others.”11
Therefore, my letter was meant to convey that I was not a Roman Catholic, that I still considered myself an evangelical Protestant (more Wesleyan than Calvinistic or Lutheran), and that I most firmly identified with pre-Reformation Christianity–what I call “classical Christianity.” While I did not rule out becoming Roman Catholic sometime during my journey with God, I made it clear that I was not a Catholic and that I had many questions about Catholicism to address before I could ever become Catholic.
The fact that Wilkin failed to come to this conclusion shows his application of an impoverished hermeneutic and his acquiescence to the logical fallacy of suppressed evidence. Concerning the latter point, logician Howard Kahane writes, “Anyone who conceals evidence unfavorable to his own position is guilty of the fallacy of suppressed evidence.”12 Wilkin committed this fallacy when he failed to provide his readers with the full context of my letter. For if he had presented my comments in their context, he would have been unable to validate his point.
In a follow-up letter to my friends dated 25 April 1995, I provided this update:
I just wanted you to know that some of the doctrinal barriers that have held me back from becoming Roman Catholic are still insurmountable to me and will likely remain so. It is not that I believe that the theological differences between Catholicism and Protestantism denote differences between heresy and orthodoxy. In this I take issue with many Catholic and Protestant apologists and theologians. Rather, I see many of the differences are related to different answers given to two central questions: How far can exegetical and theological conclusions be rightly extended? And what role will sources and disciplines outside of biblical exegesis be allowed to play in discovering truth, especially as it is revealed in holy writ?
The remainder of this letter briefly addressed each of these questions, then ended by saying, “While some of my disagreements with Catholicism remain, my respect and admiration for the Catholic tradition have deepened considerably. One day believers of all traditions and confessions will stand before their common Savior together, visibly united forever. I look forward to that day, and I pray the Lord will use me on this side of heaven to help heal the divisions in His Body. That healing process begins with me–with each of us who claim Christ as our Savior and Lord.”
While my first letter does not give Wilkin adequate evidence to support his conviction that I was allegedly teetering on the precipice of becoming Roman Catholic, my second letter certainly undermines his conclusion.13 Hence both documents, taken together or separately, show that Wilkin’s interpretation is faulty.
Third, Wilkin implies I am among those “confused” Christians who sometimes join churches that “teach a false gospel” (28). Well, if I am confused, and I do not grant that I am, then my confusion is not due to a lack of information, education, or association in theologically conservative Christian circles, particularly evangelical Protestant ones. I have twenty years of formal education (with concentrations in systematic theology, philosophy, history, comparative religions, ethics, music, and biblical studies), fourteen years of additional study on my own (particularly in the areas of philosophy, theology, ethics, public-policy concerns, apologetics, spirituality, and biblical studies), twenty-three years of walking with God and serving Him in Christian ministry (e.g., teaching, speaking, debating, counseling, evangelizing, preaching, defending the faith, writing, editing, consulting), and sixteen years of Christian publishing experience, which have included the publication of about eighty pieces of my own work (e.g., popular articles, book reviews, scholarly essays, trade and academic books, and Bible study guides).
Moreover, I have spent sixteen years studying Catholic thought, steeping myself mostly in primary sources. Among the great Catholic thinkers from the past I have read are Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm, Athanasius, Bonaventure, Erasmus, and especially Thomas Aquinas. Some of the many contemporary Catholic scholars I have delved into are E. L. Mascall, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Jacques Maritain, Peter Kreeft, Richard John Neuhaus, Frederick Copleston, Etienne Gilson, Raymond E. Brown, Avery Dulles, Josef Pieper, Hugo Rahner, and Pope John Paul II. I have also pondered many of Catholicism’s official statements of faith, including the declarations of the Council of Trent, the Vatican Council II, and the newly released Catechism of the Catholic Church.14 And I have worked alongside, dialogued with, and grown close to several committed Catholics. Through all of this I have attempted to understand Catholicism through Catholic eyes, not Protestant ones. Some critics may say this approach has blurred my vision. I would respond that it has cleared my sight. It is the same type of approach that most believing Protestants (and believing Catholics) strive to apply to Scripture–namely, interpreting the biblical text in light of its milieu and what the biblical writers actually said and believed, rather than interpreting it through the times, wishes, and beliefs of the exegete.
Wilkin apparently believes that my state of mind or rationale of belief or choices of association are confused. His justification for this conclusion amounts to his interpretation of my September 1994 letter. Since his interpretation is incorrect, he needs to muster more evidence to substantiate his implication. Of course, if he does not mean to suggest that I am confused, I would appreciate a statement to that effect.
Fourth, if I, or anyone else, became Roman Catholic, I would not describe that as a dangerous situation. Contrary to Wilkin, I have concluded from my studies that Roman Catholicism does not teach a “false gospel” (28). And I do not believe that the book AHU does either. (I will have more to say about this later.) If I thought that it did, I would not have participated in the project. Indeed, Fournier would not have either.
B. Responses to Five Major Criticisms
Here I would like to focus on five charges Wilkin makes against AHU and provide my answers to them.
1. AHU “never really supports its case from Scripture at all” (13).
Wilkin gives six arguments in support of this claim.
His first two arguments revolve around the citation of Bible verses. He seems perturbed that most “references to verses” are given in endnotes where “most readers will not read” them (13). Then, when references are given, sometimes ten or more passages are “cited at once,” which “means that the author rarely even attempts to support his points with the Word of God” (13). This is a strange conclusion indeed. If citing references to Scripture does not count as supporting one’s points by the Word of God, then what does? This practice may not provide as full of support as detailing for readers the basis for one’s exegetical conclusions, but that it fails to count as biblical support in any sense is very peculiar.
Indeed, if Wilkin wishes to lay such a charge at Fournier’s doorstep, then he must apply it to himself as well. Wilkin also cites Scripture in footnotes without providing explicit exegetical support for his conclusions (see 17, fn. 14; 20, fn. 18; 25, fn. 31). He also does the same with extra-biblical sources–a book by church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette (11-12, fn. 2), and books by Zane Hodges and Joseph Dillow (14, fn. 6). Does all this mean that Wilkin really cannot contend that these books and Bible texts support his claims in any genuine sense? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Fournier is guilty as charged, so is Wilkin.
The third argument Wilkin brings to the fore is that Fournier “never once explains what a given passage means. He merely quotes or refers to passages” (13). This is a peculiar assertion too. While Fournier does not usually engage in a detailed exegesis of biblical texts, he certainly tells his readers what he understands the Bible to teach and in this context he quotes from or cites references to the pertinent Scripture passages.15 Jesus Christ and the biblical writers often did this also (e.g., see Matt 9:12-13; 12:1-8; Acts 2:14-21; Heb 10:36-39; 13:5-6; 1 Pet 3:8-12). Even Wilkin does it several times in his review of AHU (see 18, 19, 20, 26, 27). If this practice means its practitioners are not supplying a biblical case for their views, then not only Fournier but Wilkin, Jesus, and many of the biblical writers are guilty too.
Wilkin’s fourth argument is that because “usually” only “minor points” in AHU receive biblical quotations or citations, the book lacks a genuine biblical case for its message (13). Really? Here are just a few of the “minor points” that occupy AHU: the Body of Christ as a visibly divided house; Jesus’ prayerful desire that the Body be as one; Paul’s teaching concerning the unity of the church; Jesus’ compassion for the physical and emotional needs of people; mankind’s fallen condition and God’s plan of redemption; the early church as a culture with shared leadership, shared beliefs, shared Scriptures, shared practices and values, a shared mission, and shared persecution; the basis upon which Christians of all traditions and confessions (Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox) can build alliances to change the culture for the common good. I think it is obvious that none of these points are minor, and in AHU all of them are backed by Scripture, as well as by an array of other sources.
Wilkin’s fifth argument centers on twelve Bible texts, all of which concern the gospel message. Wilkin contends that these texts must be “explained” by Fournier in order for him to “establish the case that Catholics are Christians” (13). The implication here is that these texts establish the evangelical Protestant understanding of salvation and undermine, if not contradict, the Catholic view. Well, if Wilkin believes this, he needs to demonstrate that these texts support his contention. Dismissing Fournier’s position by assertion and suggestion does not suffice.
Wilkin’s sixth argument is that Fournier uses too many Bible translations. Wilkin calls this a “questionable practice” that gives “the impression that the author will cite whatever version states the text as he sees it” (14). I am uncertain what Wilkin is driving at here. I know Fournier quoted from different Bible versions because he believed that certain versions better translated certain verses. Given this, Wilkin’s objection would amount to saying that it is somehow a “questionable practice” for an author to switch between Bible translations because he believes that different versions best translate different verses. Perhaps Wilkin would have preferred Fournier had used, say, the niv throughout his book, even if Fournier believed that in some cases other versions did a better job conveying the meaning of certain texts he wanted to quote or discuss. I cannot see why any author serious about communicating would consciously choose to do this. It is clear to me that an author should use whatever version best conveys a text’s meaning. This is exactly what Fournier sought to do.
Perhaps, however, Wilkin is suggesting something else. Maybe what Fournier did bothers him because it gives the impression that Fournier was presenting his beliefs in a way that appeared to accord with Scripture even when he knew such was not the case. This interpretation of Wilkin’s argument fits better with his desire to demonstrate that Fournier fails to support his case biblically. However, if this is what Wilkin means, then he needs to move his criticism beyond the mere impression of impropriety in order to give it adequate support. This would entail him showing that Fournier did use different Bible versions to deceive his readers into believing that his faith convictions are biblical when they are not. Wilkin has not done this. Innuendo and suggestion are far cries from demonstration.
With this said, I have covered and found wanting all of Wilkin’s arguments in support of his claim that AHU does not offer any genuine biblical support for its case. AHU does, indeed, offer a great deal of biblical support, especially for its main contentions. The book may not supply a lot of word studies16or cite a slew of commentaries or address all of the Bible passages that would have satisfied Wilkin. But none of this entails the conclusion that Fournier offers no, or very little, real scriptural support for his beliefs. That conclusion is unfounded.
2. AHU relies on human experience to prove its case (14-16).
“Instead of establishing his case from the Bible, Fournier uses experience” (13), states Wilkin. Obviously Wilkin finds human experience an unacceptable criterion for demonstrating truth. As he states, “Experience is excellent for illustrations of truth which has been established from Scripture. However, experience is absolutely worthless for establishing truth–especially experience contrary to Scripture” (16, italics added). I wonder how Wilkin knows it is true that he exists or leads an organization called the Grace Evangelical Society or is an alumnus of Dallas Theological Seminary without appealing to his own experience or that of others. None of these details of his life, nor any others for that matter, are mentioned in Scripture. But if they are not there, then according to his own criterion not only he but the rest of us can never establish his reality, assuming, of course, that “experience is absolutely worthless for establishing truth.”
Perhaps Wilkin does not mean that human experience can establish no truths, since that leads to some obvious epistemological difficulties for him personally. He may mean instead that human experience cannot establish–that is, support17–any truths found in Scripture. If this is how his comments should be interpreted, his position is still seriously flawed.
First of all, the Bible itself records instances where human experience validates critical events and teachings. For example, when many people encountered Jesus, heard His teachings, and witnessed His miraculous power, they came to believe that He was who He claimed to be: the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God and Son of man (Matt 16:13-20; Luke 5:4-11; 7:18-29; John 4:1-42, 46-53; 9:1-38). After Jesus’ resurrection, He provided further empirical evidence to His followers that He had indeed conquered sin and death and therefore was truly the way, the truth, and the life for all the world (Matt 28:9-10, 16-20; Luke 24:13-53; John 20:14-31; 21:4-14). The apostles’ experience of Jesus had such confirming power that John appealed to it in the opening words of his first epistle as evidence that his message was true and should be heeded (1 John 1:1-4).
Extra-biblical human experience also provides evidential support of biblical teachings and predictions. For instance, the history of the church confirms the truth of Jesus’ prophecy that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matt 16:18). The moral, spiritual, and theological downward spiral of twentieth-century Western civilization verifies the truth of Rom 1:18-32. Even the life and testimony of every Christian gives additional verification that God is alive and well and at work on planet Earth, and that what He has revealed to us in nature, human experience, church history, and His written Word is true and certain.
Fournier draws on many facets of human experience to demonstrate, not just illustrate, various biblical teachings. He even reveals much about his own life as testimony to God’s redemptive and transforming work and unfailing faithfulness. In this way he is following in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, who also appealed to his experience with the Lord as verification of his conversion and mission and also of Jesus’ resurrection, deity, and salvific gift to humankind (Acts 22:1-21; 26:1-29).
Human experience does help us discover and verify truth, including many significant truths found in Scripture.18 Fournier understands this and utilizes it effectively in AHU.
3. AHU presents an unbiblical view of the Gospel (18-20).
Here we finally come to the crux of the matter. Does Fournier present an unbiblical gospel which is really no gospel at all? Is the Catholic understanding of salvation contrary to Scripture and therefore a false gospel? Wilkin obviously believes that each of these questions should be answered positively. This is a very serious charge that deserves a forthright answer. On the other hand, given the space limitations I have been allotted, I will not be able to answer it as fully as I could. Therefore, the following comments will have to suffice.
Neither Fournier nor I believe that the Catholic understanding of salvation is a “different gospel” (Gal 1:6) from the one presented in Scripture. It certainly is in many respects different from that taught by many evangelical Protestants. Of course, even evangelical Protestants have differing interpretations. Some believe in Lordship salvation, while others, including Wilkin, do not (24). Some believe water baptism plays a vital role in regeneration, while others, such as Wilkin, give it lesser significance (20). Some believe salvation can be lost, while others, Wilkin included, deny this (19). Some believe that the Lord’s Supper is a channel of God’s forgiveness and empowering grace, while others, such as Wilkin, give it “special meal” status but reject it as a means of enabling or life-giving grace (20). Some believe that infants, when baptized, are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, while others would agree with Wilkin that one must be able to exercise one’s own faith in order to be saved (20). Some believe salvation is in many senses a process, while others side with Wilkin claiming that salvation is an instantaneous event that occurs the “very moment” a person “trusts in Christ” (19). Soteriological differences also abound among such issues as the relationship between predestination and the human will, whether humans are free in any respect, what constitutes eternal torment, whether faith itself is a gift or simply a natural means to receiving the gift of salvation, the meaning and extent of human corruption, and the relationship between law and gospel.19
Since these differences (and many others) are found among evangelical Protestants (not to mention Christians of other orthodox traditions), the question arises, Which understanding of salvation will become the standard by which the Catholic view will be measured? The answer is plain in Wilkin’s review: The standard is his understanding of salvation, which he identifies with what the Bible teaches on the subject. He does not demonstrate that his view is indeed the biblical one. In fact, he does what he accuses Fournier of doing: He declares his beliefs to be biblical, then he cites a handful of Bible references to support his assertions, but he does not exegete any of the cited texts (see 19-20). Neither does he deal with, much less cite, any of the texts that other Protestants and Catholics could use to challenge his views (e.g., John 3:5 and Acts 2:38 on baptism; Matt 13:20-21 and Heb 6:4-8 on whether salvation can be
lost). Wilkin does not even acknowledge, except in the case of Lordship salvation, that evangelical Protestants have any differing views on the biblical teaching of soteriology. Even when he mentions this single exception, he dismisses it out of hand as an unbiblical position (24). Clearly we are simply supposed to accept his interpretation as the authoritative, biblical one. Perhaps that approach satisfies the editors and readers of this journal, but I find it wholly inadequate, and I would imagine so would the many other evangelical Protestants who would not embrace many aspects of Wilkin’s understanding of soteriology or his attempt to justify them from Scripture.
Of course, Wilkin’s theological pronouncements go beyond evangelical Protestant thought and move into Catholic theology. He declares that Fournier’s view of the Gospel is “not the Gospel of the Bible. It is not the message of salvation by grace through faith alone apart from works. It is not a free gift. Instead, it is the gospel of Rome: salvation by grace through faith plus works” (18). Is this true? Does Fournier believe that faith plus works saves us? According to Wilkin, Fournier does, even though he “never attempts to explain his view of the gospel in detail” (18) but scatters his beliefs on this point “here and there throughout the book” (19). Wilkin even suggests Fournier was not being as candid with his readers as he should have been: “It would have been more forthright to have a chapter in which he [Fournier] explained and defended his view of the Gospel” (19).
I find Dr. Wilkin mistaken on all these points. Fournier does not believe in salvation by faith plus works. In fact, he addresses this charge in several respects in Chapter 1 and in other places of the book. But he most fully and directly responds to this accusation in Chapter 12, a fact Wilkin fails to reveal to his readers. (The fallacy of suppressed evidence again.) There Fournier introduces his discussion this way:
Many Christians misunderstand the Catholic theology of salvation as one of salvation by “good works.” Catholics, they say, try to earn Jesus’ acceptance into Heaven’s gate by performing deeds that would please Him. . . . They believe Catholics have rejected the true gospel of salvation by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone. Instead, they charge, Catholics have accepted the false gospel of salvation by faith plus good works apart from grace, which undermines Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.
Although some Catholics, as well as some Protestants, have adopted the “gospel” of faith plus good works equals salvation, this view does not represent Catholic theology. As we will see, there is an integral place for the deeds of faith (not deeds done apart from or in addition to faith) in the salvation process, but this must be understood in light of the fullexpression of the biblical concept of salvation. And this understanding flows from the biblical view of the human dilemma.20
Fournier follows this introduction with a discussion of human fallenness, in which he concludes “that all human beings are morally, intellectually, emotionally, volitionally, spiritually, and physically corrupted because of sin. As a consequence of the original sin of our first parents, we have inherited and surrendered ourselves to a distorted, corrupted nature. We have dug ourselves into a pit so deep that we can’t climb out of it.”21 The only way out of this pit is through Christ, states Fournier: “When we place our trust in Him, God’s undeserved gift of salvation from sin becomes ours.”22 Then Fournier quotes as support one of those passages Wilkin says he never discusses–Eph 2:8-9.
From here Fournier moves on to talk about justification and grace. In part he writes:
When I exercise faith in accepting God’s free gift of grace in Christ, the Holy Spirit converts me and thereby brings about my justification. Moved by grace, I’m turned toward God and away from sin. In the biblical imagery [which Fournier had detailed earlier], I’m set free from sin, my sight is restored, I’m made alive in Christ, I become the recipient of His matchless riches, my deepest wounds are healed. I am no longer separated from God but reconciled to Him. The corruption sin has wrought is reversed in my life. In fact, in the very center of my being, I am changed. I am not merely forgiven, though that occurs. I am also purified; I am made a new creation. Put another way, justification not only declares me righteous but makes me righteous. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” God makes me just, He doesn’t just declare me so. He cleans my sin record and purges me of my sins.23
Regarding justification and sanctification, Fournier explains: “Though we may be justified by faith in a moment, our justification is deepened through the sanctification process. This day-to-day process makes us holy, not at once, but over the period of our lifetimes. God works in our lives through the virtues of faith, hope, and love to bring this result about. And in that process, He gives us the privilege and ability to cooperate with Him. Among these virtues, love is the greatest, as the Apostle Paul told us it was: ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’”24
Do certain aspects of this Catholic understanding of salvation differ from some evangelical Protestant perspectives? Yes. Are these differences due to a faith-plus-works orientation? No. Fournier explicitly rejects this interpretation, and he does so because the Catholic Church does not teach it.25 Wilkin, however, either does not realize this or thinks the charge of faith plus works still sticks anyway. Wilkin reasons that because Fournier believes that such things as water baptism, perseverance in charity, and the need to sustain, nourish, and deepen one’s relationship to Christ are integral to the salvific process that this means he believes in salvation by faith plus works (19). It is true that Fournier believes there are “deeds of faith” that play a vital role in salvation, but he denies that these deeds have any salvific value “apart from or in addition to faith.”26 As he clearly says:
The integral relationship between faith and works has long troubled many believers of all traditions. But the Catholic theological understanding of the biblical teaching is clear: We are converted to Christ by faith, not because of our good works; and we do good works only because we have the divine grace to do so. Our good works flow out of our love for God and that which God loves, His creation. Faith must express itself dynamically in a life of love. As Paul describes it, what counts is “faith working through love.” [Gal 5:6] Faith and works go together in God’s Family-life plan. Without faith, works have no everlasting value. Without works, faith has no everlasting value either. Works apart from faith are dead; faith apart from works is dead also. If faith is genuine, good works will follow, and if good works are genuinely of God, saving faith will be present. Faith and good works are inseparable.27
In light of all this, I think Wilkin’s criticisms of Fournier’s soteriology amount to no more than magisterial-like declarations which ignore (or suppress?) Fournier’s explanations and defenses of the Catholic perspective. Wilkin erects a straw man, attempts to knock him down with inadequate criticisms, then declares victory on behalf of the “true gospel” and biblical integrity.
To top it off, nowhere in his review does Wilkin indicate a belief that Fournier is saved. He commends Fournier for a number of things, but he never grants that Fournier is a Christian, and this despite all the evidence to the contrary, including Fournier’s testimony of faith and the obvious fruit of his faith (cf. Matt 7:17-20; 12:33-35; John 10:37-38). Wilkin is careful to say that Catholics can be saved, but not by “believing the gospel as taught in Catholicism” (27). Since Fournier does believe in this “gospel,” he must not be saved, Wilkin has apparently reasoned. What Fournier needs to do, therefore, is to accept the Gospel according to Wilkin. Given what Wilkin argues and how, it is hard to escape this conclusion. But as I have argued, the case Wilkin presents for his view of the Gospel is entirely inadequate for anyone to base their eternal destiny upon it.
My conclusion, therefore, is that an unbiased reading of AHU shows that Wilkin’s assessment of Fournier’s soteriology is invalid and unsound.28 And since his critique fails on this, his most central concern of AHU, the reasoning of his entire review is in serious doubt. It is not Fournier’s book that is “dangerous” (29), as Wilkin claims. It is Wilkin’s review that is faulty and misguided.
4. AHU “sweeps under the rug” important differences between evangelical Protestants and Catholics (20-23).
Wilkin says that “Fournier does not state what his areas of difference are” with Protestants, particularly those differences that keep Catholics and Protestants from enjoying “table fellowship together at the Lord’s Supper” (21). It is true that Fournier does not provide a list of all the differences between Catholics and Protestants, though many of them are listed in the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document reprinted in AHU’s appendix.29 There was no real need to focus much attention on the many issues that divide Catholics and Protestants. Books dealing with the differences abound,30and most Protestants and Catholics have ample opportunities to learn about at least some of the more divisive issues in their various church communities. AHU largely assumes that Catholics and Protestants, particularly those of the evangelical persuasion, will have some information about the conflicts and probably a good idea where they stand on those matters. What Fournier chose to do was to focus more on our commonalities rather than our differences and to deal more with our attitudes and actions toward one another and how we can better channel our resources for the common good of the culture. This is what makes AHU unique; this is its greatest contribution to the ongoing controversies over and dialogue about cooperation among Christians of various orthodox traditions.
This does not mean that Fournier ignores or tries to gloss over the differences between Protestants and Catholics. The first page of the first chapter of AHU openly acknowledges and specifies what many Protestants believe Catholicism teaches and how that differs from “the three cardinal tenets of the Reformation.”31 The rest of this chapter goes into more detail about what many Protestants believe about Roman Catholicism and why Fournier, in spite of those perceptions, can legitimately call himself an evangelical Catholic Christian. Chapter 11 deals with the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath, and chapter 12 addresses two accusations many Protestants commonly raise against Catholicism–namely, that it embraces a false gospel and that it is an anti-Christ religion.
Given all of this, I do not understand how Wilkin concluded that Fournier “sweep[s] under the rug” the differences between Protestants and Catholics. After all, Fournier even faces head-on Wilkin’s central concern that the Catholic view of the gospel is unbiblical. Apparently Fournier did not write the book the way Wilkin would have liked him to. This was due to Fournier’s vision for AHU. He wanted his book to be an apologetic and a clarion call for alliance-building among Christians from all traditions and confessions. He wanted Christians to consider why they should link arms and how they could do it while still affirming their ecclesiastical and doctrinal distinctives. I think AHU fulfills that desire quite well, and many other evangelical Protestants and Catholics have agreed.32
5. AHU fails to prove that evangelical Protestants should cooperate with Catholics (24-27).
Wilkin states, “Fournier’s main point . . . is that Evangelicals should cooperate with Roman Catholics in evangelism and in social outreach” (24). Wilkin concludes that Fournier does not make his case because he fails to establish the thesis on which it rests, namely, that “Catholics are Christians” (24). And since Fournier gives no “other reasons for Evangelicals to unite with Catholics . . . his own case collapses like a house of cards” (24). I have three problems with Wilkin’s argument.
First, Fournier does not argue that evangelical Protestants and Catholics should cooperate in evangelistic efforts. He is certainly not opposed to that, and he occasionally gives examples of individuals and organizations that do this. But he explicitly gives several reasons why “I have not focused my attention in this book on cooperative evangelistic efforts.”33 Perhaps Wilkin did not read the book carefully, so he missed this fact. Or maybe he read the book through such biased glasses that he misinterpreted Fournier’s comments or suppressed them. Whatever happened, the effect was the same: He misstated and misrepresented AHU.
Second, as I have already argued, I think Fournier does establish the fact that Catholics who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior are Christians.
Third, Fournier advances many reasons for evangelical Protestants and Catholics to join forces to change the culture. In the chapter called “A Common Agenda,” Fournier discusses numerous issues that could be effectively dealt with through alliance-building efforts: issues of truth, religious freedom, life and death, education, equality of opportunity and responsibility, economic freedom and cultural integrity, and public policy at home and abroad.34 Any one of these issues provides reason enough for concerned people of faith to pool their resources and make common cause for the transformation of the culture.
Therefore, Fournier’s case does not fold like a house of cards but stands on the bedrock of the combined building blocks of Scripture, Christian theology, church history, human experience, reason, and in-the-trenches proven praxis.
I would like to end this rejoinder with some final thoughts from Keith Fournier about salvation. After acknowledging once again that Christians differ even on issues of soteriology, Fournier gets to the heart of our essential agreement, whether we are Protestant, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox believers:
On the issue of salvation . . . we all agree that it begins with God, continues with God, and ends with God. Grace surrounds every aspect of salvation. So any role we play in the salvation plan, including the exercise of faith, is ultimately due to God’s unmerited, undeserved, gratuitous grace, which comes to us through Christ’s redemptive work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Christ alone merits our salvation. If this understanding is heretical, if it is truly a false gospel, then all of us – Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox – stand condemned. But this gospel is not a false gospel. It is the truth. The church has affirmed it as such since her inception. The apostles taught it because they heard it from the Lord incarnate Himself. On this Rock Catholics stand.35
And so stand all Christians.
May we learn to stand together on this Gospel in faith, love, and hope, and thereby more fully and effectively incarnate Christ’s prayer for His Church (John 17:20-26).
2. Robert N. Wilkin, “A Critique of Keith A. Fournier’s A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A Winning Alliance for the 21st Century,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring 1995): 11-29. From this point forward, page references to this review article will be cited in parentheses in the main body of the text.
4. Dialogue designed to seek understanding and reconciliation has been occurring between Christians of various confessions for quite some time. Some helpful resources on the content and fruit of such discussions are: Joseph A. Burgess and Jeffrey Gros, eds., Growing Consensus: Church Dialogues in the United States, 1962-1991 (New York: Paulist Press, 1995); John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias, eds., Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992); H. George Anderson and James R. Crumley, Jr., eds., Promoting Unity: Themes in Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989); George Carey, A Tale of Two Churches: Can Protestants and Catholics Get Together? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985); the now eight-volume series Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue(Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1965-1992); Geoffrey Wainwright, The Ecumenical Moment: Crisis and Opportunity for the Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983).
5. After Keith Fournier read Wilkin’s review of AHU, he called me on 31 July 1995 and told me he was glad Wilkin had attempted to interact intelligently with the book. He was doubtful he would have the opportunity to write a rejoinder due to his busy schedule, but he thought the review was worthy of a response. It was then I told him that I had already begun work on a rejoinder.
6. See R. C. Sproul’s thoughts on this matter in his essay “Right Now Counts Forever,” in The Necessity of Systematic Theology, 2nd ed., ed. John Jefferson Davis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 15-18.
8. By Christian orthodoxy I mean the body of largely agreed-upon Christian belief as articulated in the creedal statements that came out of the church’s first eight (indeed, only) ecumenical councils: the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, the first Council of Nicaea (ad 325), the Council of Ephesus (ad 431), the Council of Chalcedon (ad 451), the second Council of Constantinople (ad 553), the third Council of Constantinople (ad 680), and the second Council of Nicaea (ad 787). Interestingly enough, there has yet to be an ecumenical council on the key soteriological issues that took center stage during the Protestant Reformation. This means that, unlike such doctrines as the Trinity and the Incarnation, many important issues concerning the doctrine of salvation are still unsettled in the church as a whole.
10. To Wilkin’s credit, when I confronted him with this matter over the telephone, he apologized, stating that he thought my letter was an open letter to the public. He further noted that he would take editorial steps to ensure such a breach of privacy does not occur in the future.
13. I mentioned the existence of this second letter to Wilkin over the telephone during the last week of July 1995, and he indicated to me that he knew nothing about it. Of course, if Wilkin had contacted me to get permission to quote from my first letter, I could have told him then that he had arrived at a false conclusion concerning my relationship to Catholicism. And if my second letter had been written by that time, I could have forwarded a copy to him as further substantiation of my position. The bottom-line is that Wilkin could have reached me to verify or falsify his conclusion at any time, but he never did.
15. For example, see AHU, 23-24 (on John 17:11, 20-23; John 3:16-17; Eph 4:11-13), 72 (on Jas 5:16), 98-99 (on Neh 4:13-20), 101 (on 1 Pet 2:4), 105-107 (on Matt 28:18-20; Gen 1:26-30; Heb 13:12-14), 120-33 (on Isa 5:20-21), chs. 9, 10, and 12 (which contain numerous NT quotations and references, as well as explanations and background information).
16. I would like to point out, however, that AHU does contain some word studies, which are mostly brief. For example, see pp. 26 (Christian), 34 (euangelion and euangelizw), 102 (apologia), 161 (genos), 209 (death), 223 (vicarius), and 224 (anti, antichrist).
18. Defenses of this epistemological position can be found in Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976); Stuart C. Hackett, The Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation Claim: A Philosophical and Critical Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984); Jacques Maritain, Degrees of Knowledge (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959); Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics; County Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1982).
19. A few of the many sources that detail some of the variety of soteriological belief among Protestants are: Alan P. F. Sell, The Great Debate: Calvinism, Arminianism, and Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983); Clark H. Pinnock, ed., The Grace of God, the Will of Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989); John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992); Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), and Great Divides: Understanding the Controversies That Come Between Christians (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993); David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds., Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986); Peter Toon, Justification and Sanctification (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1983); Melvin E. Dieter et al, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987); Edward Fudge, “How Wide Is God’s Mercy?,” Christianity Today (27 April 1992), 30-33; “The Status of Justification by Faith in Paul’s Thought: A Brief Survey of a Modern Debate,” Themelios (April 1981): 4-11.
25. Apart from AHU, which he misinterprets, Wilkin never cites any Catholic sources in support of his claim that Catholicism teaches salvation by faith plus works. Some excellent sources, aside from AHU, that could have corrected his interpretation are: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 40-45, 481-90; H. George Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, and Joseph A. Burgess, eds., Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985); Alan Schreck, Catholic and Christian (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1984), ch. 1.
30. In addition to the many excellent sources cited in note 4, some others have recently been published that in my opinion are less informed and often more inflammatory in their rhetoric and reckless in their charges. Two of these publications are Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), and John F. MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994). Two more responsible and scholarly publications, yet, in my view, still flawed in some respects, are John Armstrong, ed., Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), and Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Disagreements (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995).
32. For example, AHU’s foreword is written by Protestant Pat Robertson. The book’s jacket contains endorsements from Catholics Charles Rice, Michael Scanlan, E. Michael Jones, and Harald Bredesen, and from Protestants Terry Lindvall, Vinson Synan, and Ralph Reed, Jr.