Evangelical Catholics. By Keith A. Fournier. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990. 223 pp. Cloth, $15.95.
Two major events in the early 1960’s precipitated a large-scale paradigm shift within the Roman Catholic Church in America: the Second Vatican Council and the charismatic revival. As a result of these two historical phenomena, a movement has emerged within Roman Catholicism calling itself “Evangelical Catholicism.” Although the author does not document the rise of this growing movement, he devotes the better part of his book to the distinguishing features of “Evangelical Catholicism.” In essence, the book is a plea for unity among Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals. In the Foreword Charles Colson writes: “It is high time for all of us who are Christians to come together regardless of the difference of our confessions and our traditions and make common cause to bring Christian values to bear upon our society. When the barbarians are scaling the walls, there is no time for petty quarreling in the camp” (p. vi).
Part I opens with an apologia for the designation “Evangelical Catholic.” In the chapters that follow, Fournier provides a fascinating testimony of his personal pilgrimage from a nominal Roman Catholic upbringing to his personal encounter with the drug-crazed culture of the 1960’s, to his “evangelical moment” of salvation, and ultimately to his appointment as General Counsel and Dean of Evangelism at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. The author’s fresh yet simple style of writing in these chapters makes for engaging reading.
Part II is devoted to the fundamentals of Evangelical Catholicism issues related to salvation and church life.
Part III deals with what Fournier terms “the Great Divorce,” the Protestant Reformation, and how children of the “the Divorce” (Roman Catholics and Protestants) have coped with this ecclesiological trauma through the ages. In Part IV the author prescribes the steps for walling the breach between the two groups.
Fournier is to be commended for writing what is clearly a seminal work on the “Evangelical” changes observed within certain Roman Catholic circles in the last three decades. At no point should we question the sincere compassion underlying Fournier’s convictions. Yet in the opinion of this reviewer, the very notion of “Evangelical Catholicism” is problematic from the start.
The major question is this: How can a sacramental view of salvation be reconciled with the emphatic Reformation cry of sola fide? The Catholic view of the sacraments is that they are God’s gracious and visible means of rewarding individuals with eternal life and its accompanying blessings. Justification and sanctification are clumped into one package; that is, after being baptized and confirmed, and as one is faithful in keeping the sacraments (primarily confession, penance, and communion), one merits salvation ex opere operato (“from the work done”).
In the same way that doctrinal ambiguities are observed in statements of Vatican II, Fournier at times is unclear in his usage of terms. For example, in quoting from Vatican II, he affirms that, “all those justified by faith through baptism [Spirit or water?] are incorporated into Christ” (p. 16). At other times, the author’s doctrinal views are themselves ambiguous. He writes: “Children, even infants, can be baptized into the faith by the community of faith so that they can be nurtured in Christ until they are old enough to trust in Him personally. What a beautiful picture of unmerited divine grace in the salvation process. Salvation is truly of God alone. Infant baptism is evidence of this fact” (p. 103). Elsewhere, standard Roman Catholic soteriology comes out strongly: “I understand evangelization to be a process involving both the proclamation of the faith and the eventual implantation of believers into the church. It is not my intention … to explain more fully the Catholic concept of conversion as a continual process that necessarily takes place within the church” (p. 184). Fournier plays down the significant soteriological differences between Roman Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals.
Fournier’s plea for ecumenism seems to be dreamily idealistic. Apart from the soteriological rift that exists between Evangelicals and Catholics, experience itself shows that unless evangelistic teams are of one mind doctrinally, potential converts are left confused and misled regarding the Gospel. Likewise, follow-up of converts is another thorny issue; do we plug new converts into a Roman Catholic church? This reviewer believes that there is such a thing as healthy action-oriented ecumenism when countering social evils such as abortion, pornography, and homosexuality. But unified evangelistic efforts among Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals are not likely to meet with success as long as the two groups are divided over what constitutes the Gospel.
There are other problematic areas in this book (e.g., the charismatic underpinnings of Evangelical Catholicism, the way that the author suppresses the role that the Virgin Mary plays in Roman Catholic soteriology, and unguarded statements regarding the orthodoxy of noteworthy Catholic personalities), but space limitations preclude an adequate response to each. It is sufficient for now to say that Evangelical Catholicism is a curious mixture of Roman Catholic liturgical tradition, Evangelical Protestant doctrine, and charismatic practices. Perhaps it would be best to term Evangelical Catholicism as an ecclesiology of negotiated and inconsistent compromise.
Fournier’s book is a good starting point from which Evangelicals can begin to understand this fairly recent movement within Roman Catholicism. However, the author’s appeal for evangelistic unity cannot come to fruition as long as tradition is viewed on a par with the Word of God. The beckoning call to Roman Catholics is to return to the Scriptures—and to the Scripture alone—as the basis for Christian faith and practice. It is precisely at this point that Fournier’s Evangelical Catholics falls short.
Gary L. Nebeker
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society