Riffs + Open Thread: Michael Horton on What To Say To A Person Tempted to Become Catholic or Orthodox

logo.gifUPDATE: The Horton question is part of a larger symposium at Touchstone Magazine on “What is an evangelical?”

Michael Horton answers the question: What would you say to someone tempted to become Catholic or Orthodox?

Some of you people need an open thread so you can vent a bit. Well….this is your post.

Let’s hear your reaction to Dr. Horton- no matter what team you are on.

Unless you get personally insulting to someone, you can say whatever you like. I’m out of your hair.

62 thoughts on “Riffs + Open Thread: Michael Horton on What To Say To A Person Tempted to Become Catholic or Orthodox

  1. Just to add my laste two cents. I sat under Horton for about four years (Now Orthodox). Same with the rest of the White Horse crowd. Horton doesn’t understand and knows very little about Orthodox theology. He doesn’t grasp the system of theology or how they read the Bible. And this is because he doesn’t grasp their theology. They don’t endorse his monergism, because they don’t endorse monothelitism, which is the same doctrine just placed in Christology. Horton is not the place to start and neither is Letham if you wish to understand Orthodox theology.

    As for Platonism, Orthodoxy uses Platonic terms, but also terms from Aristotle and the Stoics and gives them new meaning. Hence terms like homoousia and hypostasis. Consequently it is a mistake to read the use of terms as proof of Platonic origination. Platonism depends on dialectic, distinguishing objects through opposite properties, but for Orthodoxy this is impossible since the two natures in Christ are not disginguished by opposing one to the other. Consequently, philosophy isn’t nor can be the haindmaiden to theology, it does not clarify the conceptual content of theological terms in Orthodoxy.

    If you want to understand Orthodoxy you should read its best theological representatives-Meyendorff, Staniloe, Romanides, McGuckin, Golitzen and Farrell. Historical figures such as Athanasius, Ireneaus, Cyril and especially Maximus the Confessor are crucial. The key to understanding Orthodox teaching is Christology.


  2. Scott,
    Can I suggest something that may run counter-intuitive?
    An expression of faith can appear to be highly cerebral, but be thoroughly non-Platonic in its worldview; whereas another expression of faith can appear highly embodied, but actually be thoroughly Platonic in its worldview. Witness, for e.g.,Sufism, which appears to be the most highly embodied form of Islam, but which most scholars agree has been strongly influenced by neoPlatonism.
    Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to EO, in my view. The EO argument appears to be that various seminal Fathers simply used nP terminology in order to refute the philosophical critics of Christianity in their own language, but the claim of the critics is that EO in actual fact adopted Hellenistic philosophy as part of its noetic structure, whether wittingly or unwitingly (witness, for e.g., the acceptance of the psuedo-Denis in EO long after his nPism ahd been identified in the West). That is not to say that EO is not Christian, but that it represents a highly Hellenised version of Christianity, just as, it could be said, various forms of Protestantism have been strongly shaped by the curently prevailing worldview.
    I would still contend that Meyendorff is more open to the claim of nP influence in EO than you suggest in your comment.


  3. Mark, you must have a pretty selective perspective of Myendorff’s works if you find in them support for your idea that neo-Platonism is somehow a part of the Orthodox Church. He does write on the ways neo-Platonism, notably coming to a head with Origen, but resurfacing again and again over the centuries, had to be constantly repudiated by the Fathers of the Church. He does explore how the Hellenistic perspective had to be resisted and the various ways it kept creeping back in and had to be expelled again and again.

    I’ll stick to what I said earlier, of all the charges you can lay against the East, Platonism or neo-Platonism is not one of them. If anything, they are the tradition of Christianity which has best resisted Platonic influence, perhaps because it was so close to home for them. And I only personally know two Orthodox families. I have no basis for an opinion on the individual and practical embodiment of EO. My comment on it being the most embodied of the Christian traditions — in rejection of influence of Platonism and neo-Platonism (Origen is, after all, still anathemized as a heretic) — was based solely on its theology and practice.


  4. It occurred to me that Dr. Horton’s contribution to the book Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism is a good place to go for his extended critique of EO. By the way, if ever there was a case of
    egregious misrepresentation of another tradition’s position, it is provided by Fr Vladimir Berzonsky in the same book!


  5. Scott M.,
    Yes, I would agree with you about many Protestants being semi-Gnostic, while some EO embody their faith very strongly. But I think that is incidental to the bigger question, and that is the philosophical presuppositions and foundations of the whole system. On the question of EO & neo-Platonism, I think John Meyendorff’s various comments in his work on Byzantine theology would be a good place to look to begin with.

    Certainly, look at Trent, the CCC and the various EO catechisms and apologetic works;, I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. I have shelves loaded down with them! But my point about Chemnitz and Calvin’s works in this area is that they do quote and respond carefully and directly with RC arguments, rather than with 2nd hand caricatures. Anyone considering “converting” to RC owes it to themselves to consider these works, since they are definitive reponses from the two sides of the magisterial Reformation to the RC counter-reformation.
    Regrettably, I’m not aware of a sytematic review of EO from the same perspective.

    Thanks both for your thoughts.


  6. Mark:
    I might point out that I think you’re a bit mistaken regarding the idea of dealing with RC and EO beliefs “in terms of their own formulations.” You present a number of Protestant authors writing about RC and EO. What I think we’re talking about is hearing the beliefs “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak. Rather than read what John Calvin said about Catholicism, read what an actual Catholic says.

    Now, in my case, there was one book I found, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: a Western Perspective by Daniel Clendenin, that seemed (at least at the time, I’ve not re-read it since I’ve actually become Orthodox) to be a somewhat fair portrayal of Orthodoxy, even expressing the need to understand the different perspective in Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course, later in the book, where he offers his critique of Orthodoxy, he seems to completely forget about this…


  7. Mark, I’ve been following the thread, but haven’t had much interest in commenting beyond the one I made early on. However, you last comment about neo-Platonism in Eastern Orthodoxy perplexed me. From the studies I’ve made Orthodoxy is more deeply embodied — and thus contrary to Platonism — of any of the traditions. If anything, the charge of platonic influence would seem to more accurately be lodged against the West. In fact, it strikes me that the vast majority of Christians in the US are some blend of soft gnostics and soft Platonists, even if they don’t actually know what either means. Orthodoxy and Plato’s disembodied happy philosophers are at opposite extremes of the spectrum.


  8. Reading some of these responses, I think we need to be fair to Dr Horton here: this was not an article but a response to a question, presumably answered within time/word limit constraints, and as part of a panel, whether real or virtual I’m not sure. Any response needs to take into consideration the context of his remarks. Were he to write a book in response to the question, we would of course have a more rounded and fully considered answer.

    Also, a few comments have been made about the need to deal with RC or EO beliefs in terms of their own formulations; fair enough, can I refer you to one of the best works on the subject, at least as regards RC teaching, the Lutheran Martin Chemnitz’s Examination of the Council of Trent? It does just that, and although it is c. 400 years old now it is still very useful, as Trent still remains the definitive framework for modern RC teaching, Vatican II not withstanding. It is polemical, but that was the spirit of the times.
    John Calvin also addresses this subject in his writings, refer his Reply to Sadoleto, for e.g.
    On EO, Robert Letham has a very fair but slim overview, Through Western Eyes, which while sympathetic and irenical still points out important differences between EO and the Reformed viewpoint.

    I think one of the best responses here, I think from Adam O., is the reference to the hope for sanctification that turns Protestants Rome-ward or to the East. Although I have not heard that desire expressed explicitly by many “converts”, I’m sure it is a strong factor. One wonders, then, whether the solutions such folk have found to this problem will prove satisfying in the long run? Is this why some converts to EO leave in disillusion further down the track? It would be interesting to find out. Another observation, “converts” to RC or EO in my experience rarely apply the same judgmental strictures to the churches they are going to that they have to the churches they have left…”the heart has its reasons”, I guess.

    A personal comment – as a former unchurched seeker who explored widely and deeply: my difficulties with Rome involved how it presents at the bar of history (which is esentially the problem Newman tried to get around,
    and I didn’t find his answer persuasive). My difficulties with EO, apart from the obvious cultural ones, involved primarily the absorption of its piety in the monastic ideal (I think Schmemann has some good comments on that somewhere). I still have some big questions about the influence of neo-Platonism on EO “spirituality” which have not been satisfactorily answered.


  9. It’s a rule around our house that every side speaks for themselves in any denominational matter. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion about Osteen, for example, but it will be based on Osteen said- and hours spent listening/reading him- and not what others say about him.

    Hence my shelf with the Catechism, the Compendium and the Kreeft commentary on the catechism. Really helpful in being fair AND in my remaining a Prostestant.

    NOTE: I am about to put this in print: any post encouraging other Christians to join your denomination will not be posted, unless it is clearly humorous.


  10. I encourage everyone who wants to talk about what Catholics and Orthodox believe to please get the information from the churches themselves, not Protestants. My husband and I accepted the challenge by a friend who got tired of me spouting Protestant misconceptions about RCC beliefs. 😉 Reading Protestant “rebuttals” as a source for information seems more a defensive act than an honest search for the truth. I know, I did that for years. 😉

    Reading the teachings of the churches isn’t “dangerous.” Nor will everyone agree with beliefs of the RCC or EO. Some may, many won’t. But it will promote dialog based on facts and not hearsay.

    My husband was received into the Catholic Church this past summer, having basically “read” himself into the faith. We are now a “mixed” family, attending at least two churches regularly. And all the better for it, I might add.


  11. For those interested: On Tradition and the Bible in the RCC

    Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ editorial oversight board for the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults.

    “The fullness of revelation is Jesus Christ. He entrusted his message and mission to his apostles, and they in turn faithfully proclaimed his word. Before they died, the apostles appointed successors so that the living Tradition would continue and future generations would be assured of what Jesus had said and done for us.

    As time went on the recollections of the essential actions of Christ were written down. Eventually the successors to the apostles approved as Sacred Scripture those writings that correspond to the living, received Tradition going back to Christ. Thus we see that Tradition and Scripture are intimately related. Both have Jesus as their source, and each makes present the message of Christ who promised to remain with his Church until the end of time.

    We read the Bible, therefore, in the context of the Church’s centuries of reflecting on its meaning under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    Quoted in the Catechism for US Issue 2 of 12


  12. The Continental Reformers got it (partly) wrong anyways on this faith/works/love/justification/final-salvation thing – all that counts is faith working by love (Galatians 5:6; see also 1 Cor. 13:2, James 2, 1 John 3-4, Matthew 25:31-46, The Great Commandment, etc.). Makes you wonder if Luther had been lecturing on those books instead of Romans when Tetzel came to town selling indulgences, how the Reformation might have been different. So split the difference – become Anglican or Methodist!


  13. “If we don’t have “salvation” locked down, what does this say about the doctrine of perspicuity?”

    I am not clear about the doctrine of perspicuity..



  14. Well, I was hoping that a kind RC would help me understand that there’s full compatibility between extra ecclesiam nulla salus and the RC belief that a persistent Christ-denying atheist can still reside in heaven forever based on Matt. 25. Because right now I don’t see how it coheres.

    So let me make other observations:

    o “Which makes me question if we have locked down what “salvation” means in the Bible as well.” (Caine)

    If we don’t have “salvation” locked down, what does this say about the doctrine of perspicuity?

    o “Just imagine if all the hours put into these long theological sessions of hand-wringing were placed into something productive!” (John)

    I think I understand fully where you’re coming from John. Yet I would give grace to those who are wrestling with these issues at the same time… and being very slow to judge that these long theological sessions are “unproductive.”



  15. He didn’t mention which of the 8,000 plus denominations he was leaving when entering “The Church, the pillar and foundation of truth”.

    It affects how one responds.

    And then do they believe in sola scriptura or solo scriptura.


  16. The article was less than satisfying for me as well. I’m currently evaluating my understanding of Christianity as I’ve grown up in it. I won’t get into all the questions and things I’m grappling with here. You can click my name and go to my blog if you’re interested.

    As far as friends converting to EO or the RCC, my best friend on this earth converted to the Catholic Church about a year ago. He was raised Protestant and had been a faithful Christian since his early teens (he’s now in his early 30s). All I can say from observing him is that his Christian walk is growing deeper from all I can tell, not more shallow. He seems more focused on his relationship with God, not less. The fruit of the Spirit seems to be more evident in his life, not less. He seems more grounded in theology and his understanding of history is broader and more nuanced rather than being blown about by every wind of doctrine as is often the case in the denomination we both came out of (pentecostal/charismatic).

    So, I don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m earnestly seeking the truth wherever that leads me. I won’t be converting to anything out of emotion or anything else. But I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand either.


  17. I think I would avoid the whole salvation/justification difference right now. With the work of the New Perspective the doctrine of imputation of righteousness is becoming questionable, at least as Protestantism currently defines it. As I read the scriptures and the relationship between grace and works, I don’t think either side has it locked down correctly yet. Both agree that works are necessary, one as a “sign” of salvation and the other as (supposedly) a “means.”

    Which makes me question if we have locked down what “salvation” means in the Bible as well. If the emphasis of the New Testament is that “Jesus is Lord Now” then our emphasis on salvation meaning “going to heaven when you die” seems a tab bit of a truncation. I am thinking this issue through right now myself, in conjunction with my own review of the doctrine of baptism. I may get to in a few months.

    My objection with Catholicism is more pointed. I don’t think Scripture makes the distinction between veneration and worship that the RC does. It simply forbids bowing down before things made by our hands to represent creatures in heaven or on earth. Period. It does not care what our “mental set” is when we do these actions; we are just not supposed to do them. Catholics who do appear to me to be functionally (though unintentionally) idolaters when they pray or bow down before such images. I think that is skating on very thin ice indeed.

    I would emphasis that issue more than the growing gray areas of salvation or justification. I don’t think scripture is gray in this area at all.

    I would also have issue with having, by Papal infallible decree, to accept the physical assumption of Mary at her death. It is possible, since Enoch and (maybe) Moses experienced it, but to make such a mandatory doctrine appears to me to be an unnecessary use of Papal power. Of all the issues in life, why was THAT one subject to official infallible rule?

    If not for those two major issues, I would have little issue with “converts” moving from Evangelicalism to RC or EO churches. With reviewing our current Protestant worship services, they certainly would get an enriching experience in their move. But I cannot get past those two, especially the first.


  18. After becoming convinced in conscience of the truth of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian’s life, working mentally through justification, while important, was secondary.

    Honestly, how I end up looking at justification is this: infused righteousness is grace, I love GRACE and Lord help me, I am responsible for how I choose to act within this state of grace.

    Take marriage, I enter this covenant, I receive God’s grace within the sacrament of marriage yet I am responsible to not choose to leave the marriage bed for another who might “feed” me in a manner that is not ordained by God.

    So it is for me, to leave the table of the Eucharist would be to leave Jesus Himself.


  19. Tradition and the canon are closely related but what finally puts tradition in the lower position relative to the traditional canon is that the interpretation of the traditional canon has been subject of debate and change.

    Interpreting Gen 6 and Jude in light of the intertestamental thread of 1 Enoch, for instance, has yielded some different interpretations over time, a shift Augustine mentions in City of God that I’ve found interesting to study lately. This isn’t something Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox can get around so far as I can tell. We tend to tell each other and ourselves that our traditions don’t change when they actually have and by tradition I mean how we interpret the canon.

    Because tradition can and does change the canon is the fulcrum around which these changes can occur while still maintaining a connection to the foundation of the traditions, Yahweh, who Christians trust to be Father, Son, and Spirit. If the canon were to change tradition could not be as stable as it is. If canon is the best of the tradition about Christ we have received is isn’t a strict either/or that Scripture reflects tradition or that tradition is trumped by Scripture as though either existed in a vacuum.


  20. Surfing and happened by. Even though it’s tangential, I wanted to pipe up and say how refreshing this thread is… In an online world of bile, the civil exchange of ideas here is a welcome and encouraging respite. As an evangelical, I appreciate the gentle expressions of points of view, including that of the RC and EO folks here, so devoid of the defensiveness that is all too often apparent on all sides. It’s almost as if we’re working toward mutual edification and understanding… what a concept.

    Good job, people.


  21. Here is what the protestant life is like for me,
    I work a job to help pay the bills being a Pastor doesn’t quite cover. My wife and I give away a large portion of our income to help the needy folks in our small town. I pray for and visit the sick and the infirm. Some days I take a few hours and visit the drunks and the meth-heads that other preachers can’t seem to find time to chat with because they are occupied with rounding up trips to Indonesia. (yes, I know and am thankful that God calls folks to do that)
    I don’t engage in a great deal of discussion with my congregation about the mystery of the RCC and whether or not we have missed out, because we are usually hip-deep in the work of the ministry in the area around us. Just loving people and sharing Christ with them while helping them meet their basic physical needs doesn’t ever seem to really leave much time for that.
    Be careful when you pray for those in need around you, because God might just use YOU to answer that prayer.
    By the way, I never considered myself an evangelical, I (perhaps foolishly) just think of myself as a follower of Jesus Christ.
    Just imagine if all the hours put into these long theological sessions of hand-wringing were placed into something productive!
    I am not accusing or trying to belittle anyone, I guess I am just saying that for myself and my congregation, the church isn’t something we “do”, the church is something we ARE.


  22. “If you want Scripture, I point out Matthew 26, where at the final judgement, the people are being sorted by what they did to Jesus. Those who helped the little ones, the weak ones are welcomed into God’s pleasure, those who did not, are rejected permanently. I do believe that some who reject God, now will be surprised then. (I do hope so, because I could name at least one who fights for life.)”

    Dear Anna,

    Thanks for your reply. I dialogued with a Catholic priest and he cited Matthew 25. His exegesis was roughly similar to yours. And he believed that Pope B16 would agree with him that unrepentant and persistent atheists could still spend eternity with God despite not ever being part of the visible Church (Catholic Church) and not ever partaking of the efficacious sacraments such as the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.

    I have at least 3 concerns about this:
    (1) I don’t think his (or the Magisterium’s) exegesis of Matthew 25 is sound.
    (2) Even if I did agree with his exegesis of Matthew 25 (which I don’t), it still doesn’t cohere with the rest of the teachings on salvation in the New Testament.
    (3) The exegesis on Matthew 25 relies on man-centered works as a basis of justification. In the case of a Christ-denying atheist, as long as the atheist was “kind” or “nice” in his/her behavior and actions towards those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, needed clothes, in prison, etc…, then the atheist could still enjoy heaven with God for eternity.

    Now (3) would make some very tiny, tiny semblance of sense to me if you drop “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” Because then that non-Catholic atheist “worked” his way into God’s grace and mercy.

    But in closing, I personally do hope that as many people as possible are received into heaven. But Jesus did say that it was a narrow gate. And Jesus preached and taught on hell more than anyone else in the NT.

    P.S. Anna, respectfully I still don’t see how one can glue extra ecclesiam nulla salus together with the teaching that a Christ-denying atheist can still spend eternity in heaven with God.


  23. I may be missing the point, but I must add my “two cents”.
    If one denies the authority of scripture i.e.- canon=tradition?!! Then what is left? Going by how you feel? If that is the standard then maybe you have been touched by God or simply moved by the result of eating a bad burrito.
    I know I have pointed this out before, and I don’t mean to be redundant, but not all protestant churches are like they seem to be portrayed by some who post here.
    We are not all “flying by the seat of our pants” and I DO speak about Christmas at Christmas. The only two types of protestant churches in America are not the “emergent” and the “stagnant”. Sorry, but that type of lumping together by RCC or anyone really bothers me.


  24. Michael:

    “It always was what it was no matter who even knew it existed.”

    That only works if there weren’t disputes about what books compose the canon. And of course there were. And are.

    Which goes directly back to your Luther/Reformation post. Those guys decided some books that had been considered canonical for hundreds of years… weren’t canonical anymore. Or never were. Or whatever they said.

    So ‘splain to me how that “always was what it was” works again?



  25. Separating the idea of “canon” from the fact of God giving and inspiring scripture himself doesn’t impress me as being the best way to understand canon. Canon doesn’t mean “table of contents.” Canon means “authoritative.” Was it canon before a group of men said it was? It always was what it was no matter who even knew it existed.

    ***Back into the bunker***


  26. Tim—good point. Never thought of the Canon of scripture being an exension of accepted tradition. You know the Baptist in me has always just sat and swollowed the “all scripure is God breathed” pill to the end, without really thinking how the Bible itself came to be. Yes, I know the history behind it quite well, but just never meshed the two together. Who knew history and faith could actually walk hand-in-hand?

    See, I told you guys and gals I can’t talk theology.


  27. “Start with the gospel. The gospel creates and sustains the church, not the other way around”
    Wonder what christians did for the first 1500 yrs of Christianity before the “gospel” was discovered?

    “Now, I realize church tradition/sacred tradition does not and should not have equal footing with the Word.”
    Why not? As I recall, it was the church that chose the canon of scripture, based on tradition and the authority of the bishops. The selected documents were felt to express the truth about Christ and his church. Seems to me that this makes the footing pretty equal


  28. I’m always suspect when an article states “the Catholic understanding” or “the Catholic Church teaches” and there is no cite to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Its accessible within minutes online. If we are going to have a serious discussion, it needs to be founded in truth.


  29. I withdrew my membership from an emergent megachurch a couple of months ago to become Orthodox. As a catechumen I don’t know or understand all their finer points of theology but I do know that I’m being spiritually challenged and fed like I never was as a Protestant. I love the discipline, the full sensory experience of the liturgy that I can participate in, the mystery and depth. God is not a systematic set of theological propositions dissected out on paper, but Infinite, Awesome, Alive and Mysterious; worthy of worship!



  30. I’m going to jump in here with both feet and just speak my mind (something tells me I’ll be met with good company!)

    I’m currently what most people would call a mainline evangelical. Big hip-hop church and all that, growing numbers, lots of programs, lots of seeker friendly things to draw the unchurched in, and on and on.

    And I hate it. For over two years now I’ve been drawn out and towards the Catholic/Orthodox for one reason and one reason only:


    Now, I realize church tradition/sacred tradition does not and should not have equal footing with the Word.

    But some of us evangelicals are simply tired of “flying by the seat of our pants” in church week in and week out. I’m over programmed to death. You know, I’d like to hear a sermon about Christmas at Christmas. I’d like to hear something about Fathers on Father’s Day. Etc. Not constantly a new “series” on this latest book or a 10-week study on a church growth model.

    I’d prefer sacred tradition ANY DAY over “win an ipod this Sunday!” gimmicks.

    That is just my perspective. I read this blog daily and find myself nodding my head more times than not. I don’t comment often, because quite frankly I don’t feel able to discuss theology like many of your fine commenters.

    Thanks 🙂


  31. Dear Truth,

    Let me try to answer your question. Personally, I find it easier to understand via analogies, rather than the words of a theologian.

    Yes, it is by being subject to the church, but in the case of an atheist, it is more like a distant employee being subject to the CEO of a major corporation. He may have nothing to do with the CEO, or may not even know who he is, (like when a company is owned by a holding company). Does it change how the employee works and thinks, not really.

    We also believe in natural law, that there is enough in nature, etc. to point someone reasonably accurately toward God, especially God the Father. So, someone seeking Truth, may reject everything that they have learned about Christianity, may still be moving toward God.

    If you want Scripture, I point out Matthew 26, where at the final judgement, the people are being sorted by what they did to Jesus. Those who helped the little ones, the weak ones are welcomed into God’s pleasure, those who did not, are rejected permanently. I do believe that some who reject God, now will be surprised then. (I do hope so, because I could name at least one who fights for life.)

    Yes, it will be through Jesus, the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. How it will happen, we don’t know. (I’m content to leave it as a mystery.)

    We do trust in God’s mercy, and love and perfect knowledge. I know of family that have been very hurt by church leaders, that they could never return. Nor can I speak, too much about it, lest I turn them off, and get rejected. Here is where I appeciate the Catholic Church’s view, that God, in His Mercy, will consider what happened to them, and bring them in (through Jesus the Christ).

    Have I helped, or just added to your confusion? If the later, I am sorry.


  32. I don’t have any interest in ranting, arguing, whatever about Eastern Orthodoxy vs Protestantism and whatnot. I get enough of that IRL that I don’t care to deal with it online, too. In fact, I’d rather not have to deal with the arguing at all (sharing the faith with the curious I’m happy to do).

    That said, I do have to say that, as a formerly committed Protestant (Southern Baptist, Reformed, etc.), who has in the past year converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, Mr. Horton’s answer doesn’t really challenge my decision at all. On the most shallow level, as someone already said, his response doesn’t really deal with Orthodoxy so much as Catholicism.

    However, on a deeper level, his answer evidences the main problem I’ve continuously seen in critiques of Catholicism/Orthodoxy (especially critiques of Orthodoxy): he takes his tradition and perspective as an assumption, when, in truth, it is those very assumptions that are being challenged.

    For instance, this: “If our salvation depends on anything done by us or even within us by the Spirit, then our situation is hopeless.” He states this as an axiom; it’s self-evident. He then goes on to say the RCC and EOC are wrong because they don’t believe this, but never stops to establish this. As far as he’s concerned, of course, this is a basic axiom of the gospel.

    When someone I’m talking to in person does this, I want to say, “Woah, woah, woah! Hold on a second there! You said x, and went on with the assumption that we agree, but we don’t. I don’t mean to be rude and interrupt you, but because you’re apparently basing your argument on this, if I let you continue, you’re just wasting your breath, because your argument won’t make any sense to me.”

    I can’t say that every time, though, because if I did, I don’t think the person I’m talking to would ever get more than a sentence in!

    Granted, this might be a good-enough response to someone who is still convinced of Protestantism but is looking at Catholicism or Orthodoxy because of so-called “external attractions.” However, for someone who is “tempted” due to theology, Church History, etc., that dog won’t hunt.

    Then there’s this: “Continuing the tradition of the apostles…” Someone who is leaning towards Catholicism or Orthodoxy because of history, etc., might respond to this with, “I fail to see how skipping 1500 years is ‘continuing’ in any ‘tradition.'”

    So, to reiterate what I said before, the main problem with such writings as the linked article is that they simply take the truth of the author’s tradition for granted, and fail to grapple with the fact that it is that very tradition—the underlying assumptions that the author probably never needs to think about—that are being challenged.

    Again, the sort of argument presented above may be sufficient to deter someone who is merely looking for Protestantism with nicer clothes, but for someone who is seriously questioning the difference between the two, or is seriously disaffected with Protestantism, it doesn’t work.

    Finally, this statement struck me: “That is what the Reformation was all about, and it is why we need another one, even in Protestantism as much as in any other tradition.”

    From a Protestant perspective, this, of course, makes sense. However, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, to quote Father Stephen, “If you are in a place where you justify your role by being a “reformer,” I would seriously counsel you to consider whether this is a delusion. The Church should save you and not the other way around.”


  33. Personally, I think the article was rather shallow and does little to reflect the various reasons I and quite a few like-minded folks have made the conversion to EO.

    o.h. writes, “Refugees from a post-Christian world are deeply excited about prayer and sanctity.”

    Un huh. In my experience with both the RC Mass and the EO Divine Liturgy, prayer is what the service is about, as in, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” It’s not about fads, personalities, marketing, music and other trappings that have invaded the evangelical church. I say this, having been part of the non-denominational/baptist world for almost 30 years.

    Again, I can only speak from my own experience, but the EO converts that I know personally, though not perfect, seem to be about honoring their God with their lives. It may not be like this in every parish, but in the one I attend, I have met people that are seriously walking the walk. And I have to say, I have found it very refreshing to witness the fact that parish life is not about any particular person, per se, but about the family of God gathering. May it always be so.


  34. Can someone explain the Catholic position on inclusivism? This is the belief that while non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians may be saved, this salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, mediated through his Church.

    To elaborate, I would like to understand how the doctrine of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (i.e., there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church) coheres with the utterance that there may be persistent and unrepentant atheists who will spend eternity in Heaven with God.

    I have asked this of Catholics and of Orthodox Christians and they have maintained that it is indeed possible for an atheist to be in heaven. And I then ask them, “What about if they’ve never been in a Catholic Church and they’ve never received any of the holy sacraments such as baptism or the Holy Eucharist? And to their dying breath they have denied Christ and His work on the Cross; will the atheist still reside in Heaven for eternity? How does that reconcile with extra ecclesiam nulla salus?”

    No one has been ever able to explain that. They just go ad hominem as a diversionary tactic to get away from the question (which I ask with all respect and sincerity.)


  35. “The basis for the Catholic rejection of sola gratia”

    Catholics do not reject the notion that we are saved God’s grace and God’s grace alone. Heck, the Council of Trent in the Decree Concerning Justification dealt with this. You can read it here -http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/trent6.htm#1

    So, if someone became a Catholic because they reject the truth that we are saved by grace through the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, s/he chose poorly.


  36. Folks, let’s remember to pray for Michael, Denise and their kids per Michael’s request of August 18, 2007 in light of his work schedule this semester.


  37. Scott,
    What Piper is saying is not an issue of conditionality “if you do this, then you will be saved or not saved…”
    What Piper is saying is an issue of state “if you are saved, you will do this or won’t do this…”

    So Piper is not saying “if you deny Christ, you will not be saved…”
    Piper is saying “if you are saved, you will not deny Christ”
    Since Piper belives if you are saved it is by God’s electing grace, then you will not deny Christ. If you deny Christ, you are not saved….it is conditional (Christian’s don’t deny Christ), but it is not unconditional (Christians are only so because of God’s election)
    Horton is saying our justification doesn’t depend on our actions…Piper is saying sanctification must occur or there was no justification.


  38. as one who likes to get involved in theological hair-splitting, my wife often gently reminds me that it matters less where i go on Sundays than how i live my life Mondays through Saturdays. i left the Roman Catholic Church as a teen and long ago forsook allegiance to any pope. i don’t bend the knee to evangelical-fundamentalist popes either. who is Jesus Christ and what did His death accomplish are the crux of the matter for me. that allows for a fair amount of latitude on secondary issues.I spent 2 years in a Vineyard fellowship and my adherence to the doctrines of grace and my non-dogmatic cessationism was never a problem, for them or me.


  39. The article left me dissatisfied. As someone else noted, he did not address the issue of those converting to EO at all. I have close personal friends who did just that – and issues that helped for them was the Christocentric nature of Orthodoxy, the historic rootedness thereof (read continuity etc) etc.

    I would thereore have to conclude that the article suffers from severe over-simplification, and misses the fact that in many cases the converts have been left empty and disgusted. Also, many converts who for the first time hear that there is something more than just me and my bible, go directly to Rome or the East, and miss (for instance, I’m not blowing my denominations’ horn) say Confessional Lutheranism, which honours the fathers, Believe in the real Presence, have a robust doctrine of the Church and her history, and a liturgy rooted in the practices of the ancient church. In other words, they over-react against the clear and present problems of the church they find themselves in.

    One has to carefully find out ‘Why’ before enaging in strong rhetoric and counseling.

    And not all of Reformation Christianity is evangelical and catholic.


  40. Hmmm…

    There seems to be some conflicting reports in the Reformed camp.

    Horton said:

    “That is what the Reformation was all about, and it is why we need another one, even in Protestantism as much as in any other tradition. If our salvation depends on anything done by us or even within us by the Spirit, then our situation is hopeless.”

    And yet John Piper says:

    “The salvation of the elect depends on their not denying Christ and on their enduring in faith and obedience.” [Brothers, We are Not Professionals, p. 107]

    So which is it?


  41. I’m with the first commenter about Michael Horton, except that I have other, much better reasons for not being tempted by Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Indeed, the commenter Brandon Milan gets the fundamental difference: the Roman and Orthodox doctrine of Sacred Tradition. Everything else derives from this.

    I notice also that Horton takes a cheap shot at some fellow Protestants:

    “As the Vatican made clear, the Joint Declaration between the Lutheran World Federation and Rome regarding justification in no way rescinds or qualifies Trent. Only because the LWF partners no longer believe what Trent condemned could the ban be lifted.”

    This is a misreading of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The key to understanding the signficance of the JDDJ is that there are subtle ambiguities in its language that allow each side to interpret it as they will. Both parties could agree to it because it does not actually say anything or require anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do anyway. At best it provides some cover to those on both sides who might be subject to criticism for insufficiently hating their neighbor. By and large, it is forgotten by the actual parties involved. It mostly gets raised as a talking point by those huddling in their bunkers.


  42. “Scripture cannot be broken” (Jesus speaking in John 10:35b)

    “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

    The Living Word and the Written Word is my authority.



  43. If they were firm in their faith and someone I trusted I’d have to say:

    Go ahead. Just be careful your doing it for the right reasons and steer clear of the problem areas.

    By right reasons, I mean don’t just because you like the liturgy or especially if your chasing a girl/guy. Do it because you honestly know it will help your walk with the Lord, that is, it will help you sin less and contribute more to your local Christian community.

    As for the problem areas, every flavor of Christianity has them. I’d say the same thing to a Catholic/Orthodox wanting to come over to evangelicism. Realize some of the stuff the Catholics have been doing for years is kind of sketchy. Keep your priorities straight.


  44. In a sense, the Catholic church divorced itself from the True Church at Trent, and not the other way around. Though the pre reformation church was permeated with false doctrine and practice prior to Trent, at Trent they, in their bold anathemas, finally and firmly “officially” shut the door to further correction. By that move they anathematized themselves from the True church. They did not withdraw the True believers within its parameters from the True Church, but they “officially” shut the door of their institution to what Christ taught in Scripture.
    While I can accept members of the Catholic church who truly believe as brothers and sisters in Christ, that acceptance is not based on their church, but on their personal faith.
    I believe strongly on salvation by grace through faith alone, however, I do not find agreement on “WHAT IS SAVING FAITH”. THAT to me is the most pertinent question that needs to be addressed in our generation. THAT should be the basis of the contemporary reformation.


  45. The reason I’m Catholic is because of the tolerance for eccentricity, historical patronage of the arts, and solid historical trace in general. The idea of “sacrament” — the spiritual being manifested in the physical — also helps; there’s a big Cosmos out there beyond the covers of your Bible, and didn’t God say the physical “was good”? (Or is Genesis 1 “just symbolic”?)

    During my sojourn in Evangelicalism, so much of it seemed so out of balance. A Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, ignoring everything outside of JESUS & ME. (And the Charismatic Preacher-du-Jour.) A Party Line of Young Earth Creationism and Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist, while pastors’ widows ate out of dumpsters. Reinventing the Wheel fighting over issues that the Catholic Magisterium settled centuries ago (current topical example: Halloween).


  46. I may not be in the best shape to get into this but I will anyway. It’s something to do I reckon. As I read Horton’s counsel I was struck by the deep assumptions he’s acting from. One, which is typical, is this “rules for attaining justification” business. Now, I’m Catholic and I see all the rules and regulations and I admit they can be problematic. They are problematic for me and I’ve said so more than once. I won’t try to defend a bunch of what I see as unnecessary mess. But at it’s core, the Catholic Church is not teaching that one obeys rules to attain justification in God’s eyes. If you want to get Trent, then grab those bits, too, that condemn such a notion…

    “The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.”
    chpt. 5 of the 6th session of Trent

    I also know that Trent is a bit confusing and ends up being divisive because of when and why it was convened. The times were bad. The only reason I quote that is that – well, it’s there, and there’s more there too that fleshes our a justification which is not by man’s works, but that flows from the side of Christ and whatever works we do which cooperate and aid in our continued transformation are done so only by the Grace of God by the Holy Spirit. I have no illusion that this will settle the issue for most people. It’s worth clarifying though I think.

    You can’t just lay down something like “the Gospel is this… boom, and see, the Catholics don’t believe that so they are anti Gospe.” The Gospel is big, and yes, probably not that uncomplicated to explain when you get down into it. I’m thinking there’s not one narrow way of understanding it that will suffice.

    He even goes so far as to say something like, “If our salvation depends on anything done by us or even within us by the Spirit, then our situation is hopeless.” – Even within us by the Spirit?? That’s hopeless? That’s a very odd thing to say if you ask me. I wouldn’t call anything that GOD the Holy Spirit does within me, hopeless. That’s strange. That’s grabbing at words to be able to throw down another argument in a debate, but it doesn’t make any sense. That may be the statement that calls everything else in his argument into question.

    Certainly there will still be disagreement about the exact nature of how Justification works, how it is implemented, what happens inside and outside us as a result, how the human free will works or does not work in the equation. It’s complicated, like I said. The whole deal can’t be whittled down to a simple sentence statement. It just can’t. But we can at least see that, all of us, and try to work to understand what each other is actually saying and not act on huge skewed assumptions.

    Ultimately, the Catholic Church teaches that our justification, our holistic and final Salvation is only by the Grace of God through and in Jesus Christ, worked in and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit. His Grace acts on us when we have no power to act, awakens our sleeping will, we are made able to respond and do so (one way or the other), and progressively and constantly go on acting to either say yes or no to the moving of His Grace in us to transform us into the Image of Christ. Any “merit” we have is ultimately not our own because it comes from the One Merit of Christ in us, through us. That’s a different story.

    I know also, that even that is trouble in some Reformed camps because talking about human will having anything to do with anything is right out of the picture. That’s a debate for another day I guess.

    So, saved by the Grace of God in Christ? Yes. Saved through faith in Christ and what He did? Yes. Saved through a faith that works itself out in Love or it’s not much of a real faith? Yes, that too. And all these things are hard to separate systematically. This is God stuff, metaphysical, spiritual stuff. Our figuring gets fuzzy at some point.

    Lordy, that was long. I did that without reading any of the other comments. Hopefully I haven’t been too redundant. Interesting open thread Michael. Peace to you and all in this house.


  47. The entire article is predicated on the idea that the “gospel” is easily extricated from the Church. I suspect that this is an indefensible assumption.


  48. RCIA classes I’ve been involved with are filled not with ‘converts’ (not that it’s a ‘conversion’ in the sense of a new religion) from serious Protestantism, but with true converts from non-practicing, nominal Christian backgrounds or no Christian background at all. So you hear little about Trent and Reformation distinctives; the reason I hear repeatedly for choosing Catholicism over Protestant Christianity is a longing for holiness and for serious prayer. The sessions on doctrine are quiet; the sessions on prayer are well-attended, with much animated discussion and interest. Refugees from a post-Christian world are deeply excited about prayer and sanctity.

    Now obviously there is much prayer and holiness in the Baptist church across the street; but somehow that message is not getting across. Having grown up as a nominal Christian here in very Baptist territory, honestly the lessons I got from Protestant friends was (a) you don’t have to do anything to be saved, and especially you don’t have to strive for holiness; and (b) you mustn’t drink, dance, play cards, or watch bad movies if you hope to be saved. It took many years of being around holy, prayerful Protestant Christians to learn otherwise.


  49. I think he shows how narrow the river is between RC and Protestant/evangelical. We historically both feed from the same trough. And most members of both camps today don’t care or don’t know about that trough. But he also shows how deep the river is…there is a world of difference between being justified by grace (passive) and cooperating with grace (active).

    I think a lot of people jump across from one to the other, but few swim across.

    Here’s what I mean, there are fewer who change camps by deeply thinking about things (theological implications of both positions, authority issues, etc.) than there are who just jump ship because it’s cool or fun, or they are just discontent where they are and want to try something new.

    I think Roman Catholics can be saved, I am not so ignorant *yet* to think otherwise. But it is in spite of the “church” not because of it. Christ can justify someone who doesn’t have the theology of justification nailed down exactly.

    But at the same time, many people we dunk in evangelical churches are practicing catholics theologically. I think that’s why the border between the two looks so narrow and friendly. Because we Protestants are stupid as to what we believe about grace. We are more interested in what we can get away with, than what we got away from.


  50. I will just say what I said in Justin’s thread:

    I don’t think this response is all that helpful. What I’ve experienced with people who are thinking of converting to EO or RC is a dissatisfaction with being NOTHING MORE than a “miserable Christian.” The problem with Protestant views of sanctifaction is that this is the highest you can acheive–a state of anguish over your sinful state and trust in Christ for justification. But people that convert are not looking for a new set of rules to obtain justification. They are looking for a faith that gives hope for greater sanctification.

    I agree that there are significant differences in official teaching that can’t be ignored that confuse the two. But neither can the absolutely pitiful state of evangelical teaching on sanctification and its unholy fruits. The Roman and Greek churches have a long history of spiritual discipline that is feeding hungry evangelicals in this regard. We ought to be more wise in discerning the real problems with ourselves and why evangelicals would be attracted to these traditions than simply spouting the same rhetoric about justification and Trent.


  51. One of the comments in the article that struck me was from Jeffrey and not Horton. He acknowledged what he believed was the work of the Holy Spirit in some conversions to Roman Catholicism.

    I think we can agree that there are very serious differences between EO, RCC and Prot, that they are fundamentally at odds on key doctrines. So how could we attribute to the H.S. such confusion? If, RCC (or prot) is false, then why would the H.S. EVER “lead” someone into it? If praying to and venerating Mary is wrong, why would He ever encourage it? And if He would, isn’t it a stamp of approval and shouldn’t all of us prots sign up for RCIA?

    While I was wondering that, I also wondered why no one applies Lewis’ trilemma to the Pope? He’s either a daft looney, a lying anti-christ, or he really is the Vicar of Christ. He cannot be more than one, can he? And if he isn’t truly the VOC, why would the H.S. affirm him? If he is, again, we should all sign on.

    How do you all view the work of the H.S. in this issue of conversions and ecumenicalism?


  52. The difference between Rome and reformational protestantism is NOT that one side believes we earn justification by works and the other that we are justified by grace. Both traditions argue that justification comes by grace.

    The difference is in the nature of justification itself. In Rome justification is an infusion of righteousness that makes one righteous in one’s nature and behavior. In reformational protestantism justification is imputed righteousness — i.e., Christ’s righteousness imputed/credited/reckoned to us.

    For Rome,one is actualy made righteousn and then declared righteous. For reformational protestantism one is declared righteous and then made righteous.

    I can’t speak to EO. My sense (and it is just a sense) is that the whole question of justification and its nature is not that important to the EO given the move away from emphasizng the juridical. Is this correct EO brethren?


  53. I don’t particularly need to vent, but the linked article really just reiterates tired caricatures of Roman Catholicism and doesn’t really address Orthodoxy at all. The central metaphor in Orthodoxy (and arguably the Bible) is one of the healing, a therapeutic metaphor, rather than the juridical metaphor which while present is probably overstated in the West, so the very concept of “salvation” flows from a different basis in the Eastern stream.

    None of the three Christian traditions (to the extent that I know the highly fractured and divided Protestant tradition) teaches any form of salvation by merit apart from the grace provided by and through Jesus the Messiah. And no truly Christian tradition actually believes you were/are/will be saved if you deliberately and willfully continue in actions contrary to God, if you refuse to obey, whatever words you might profess to believe.

    So the whole works/grace thing seems to boil down to empty rhetoric and word games. The real differences lie elsewhere. For instance, neither Protestants nor Eastern Orthodox accept the assertion by Rome of either the infallibility of the papacy or its rule over the Church. The Orthodox think both Western traditions are missing the point about salvation.

    Or at least that’s my take on it.

    Oh, and having gone through every NT reference to “good news”, I find I agree strongly with Wright. In the Gospels, the “good news” is Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom or the rule of God has broken through onto earth in his person. From Acts on, the gospel is that Jesus is Lord. Or in greater detail, that the crucified and risen Jesus is both Messiah (Davidic King) and thus Lord of the whole world. I got the sense that the linked article used “gospel” more as a description of some particular mechanism for individual salvation. We find that particular “good news” (though I would tend to lean more toward the Eastern view of what salvation means) within the larger framework, certainly. But it’s hardly the whole point.


  54. My first response would be that he seems to have a very narrow conception of why people from an Evangelical or other Protestant background would be tempted to become RC or Orthodox.

    None of the recently publicized Tiber or Bosporus crossings seemed to have anything to do with being tired of Evangelicalism’s “constant stream of imperatives” nor with starvation for “mystery, transcendence, maturity, order, theological richness, liturgy, and history” as he refers to in the original source of this quote.

    He also makes the same mistake about Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy which so irritates me when Catholics make it about Evangelicalism: he boldly asserts what these traditons believe in the face of different assertions from within these traditions. He thinks he knows better.


  55. Good words — I’m with Horton. He does a nice job of holding fast to THE reformational distinctive of justification by faith with an irenic spirit. Good stuff.


  56. One of the most common things that people I’ve known who are contemplating Catholicism bring up is the issue of the authority of Scripture. We protestants claim that scripture is the only authority, church tradition is not authoritative. Except when it comes to the canon. It seems like that aspect is rarely talked about, including Horton in this essay.


  57. I’ve had friends that went from Protestantism to Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Never had an issue with it before. Not till they start proclaiming that Protestants are going to hell because we’re apostate; then the fur flies. But usually they grow out of it and we can go back to having reasonable theological discussions.

    My friends didn’t switch because of the theological basis for justification by faith versus justification by sacraments; they went because they were concerned about the lack of apostolic tradition in Protestantism. (Though it’s not lacking; we’re just in denial about its existence.) One of them commented, “I’m looking for a church that practices a liturgy the Apostles used.” My response was, “Fine; go to a Messianic synagogue.”

    Once they were in, we started knocking around the fine points of theology. Know what? I can’t say I disagree with them too much.

    The basis for the Catholic rejection of sola grazia is that someone who is enwrapped in God’s grace needs to stop sinning, otherwise they’re a liar (or claiming God’s a liar) and truth isn’t in them. My interpretation of 1 John is that a marked decrease in sinful activity (done by God’s empowerment) is one of the fruits of salvation; it is not a means by which we achieve it, ’cause we can’t. Catholics read the same epistle and conclude that it’s a combination of God’s grace and our obedience.

    But here’s the great thing about being a Protestant: Since God does all the saving, it doesn’t really matter if they’re wrong ’cause God will save them anyway. What counts is that they have a developing relationship with Jesus. And so long that the emphasis on obedience and sacraments is a byproduct of the relationship, and not the other way round, I’m not gonna be too particular about their iffy theology. Maybe that’s too pragmatic of me, but sola grazia means we aren’t saved by correct theology either. It’s all God.

    So if my Protestant friends want to become Catholic or Orthodox for the sake of furthering their relationship with Jesus, I’m all for it. If it’s because they think He’s missing in the Protestant churches, I take issue. (Though, considering some Protestant churches I’ve gone to, they have a point.) The important thing to me is that they’re going somewhere where the real Gospel is preached and the real Holy Spirit is directing people to the real Jesus.


  58. As a Protestant, his response makes me want to become Catholic or Orthodox. Thankfully for the poor Catholics and Orthodox who would otherwise have to put up with me, I know other Protestants. 😉


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