My theology of missional-ecumenism says that we should all go back to the ancient standards of faith confessed by all Christians in the undivided church of the first five centuries. I believe in what has been called, by theologian Thomas Oden, paleo-orthodoxy. In these standards of faith we can find a place where all true Christians can stand together and contend for the historic Christian faith side-by-side, even while we continue to work on our remaining differences, which are considerable. To say we agree on a great deal, while we still work on our differences in a spirit of Christian love, is not compromise by any serious definition.
This kind of response, most common among very conservative evangelicals, and very conservative Catholics, is hard to explain but most know what it is when they see it. I am tempted to call it “fundamentalism” but this is neither entirely accurate nor seriously helpful. Whatever it is it amounts to reductionistic thinking. It often leads people to several fallacies in thought and practice.
One such fallacy is the dicto simpliciter. This is the fallacy of the sweeping generalization. To take one example—if you do not condemn Catholics, and Catholic theology, for teaching salvation by human merit then you deny the gospel. This fallacy, commonly made by ordinary Christians, is fed by some popular preachers who ought to know better but who seem to relish being adversarial most of the time.
Another common fallacy is the hasty, or fallacious, generalization. This has much in common with the dicto simpliciter but it goes a bit further. It makes sweeping claims and then condemns broadly based on an improper understanding of a position. This is true again with regard to Catholic doctrine on grace and salvation. I hear evangelicals say again and again, so much so that many really believe it, that Roman Catholic theology teaches that one is saved by their good works. Though I understand why this is said it does not make it true.
The worst fallacy of them all is what could be called the abusive ad hominem. This argument attacks the person who is making the argument and often by heaping abuse not only on their position in an argument but upon their character and person. This has been done to me in several instances and even though I have sought to dialogue with those who make such arguments it has gotten me nowhere. It seems to me that once you cross this line there is no hope for charitable, even civil, conversation. It pains me deeply but I have had to learn to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to this business. I delete all letters from such people and refuse to read their comments. I seriously read helpful and content driven response to my work but I will no longer allow myself to be beaten up emotionally by such abusive response. It is, simply put, ungodly.
My friend Nick Morgan, whose letter I have reprinted with his permission, concluded his late 2008 email to me by writing the following:
Well, I plan to invite my wife’s evangelical pastor out to lunch soon to become better acquainted with him. I also desire to honestly share with him where I'm coming from both spiritually and theologically. He's been at this local church for just over a year now, and I have been forwarding the ACT 3 Weekly to him as well. I even gave him a copy of the final issue of the ACT 3 Journal, the one on N.T. Wright's biblical theology. He thanked me for this gift but has not made any response back to me, good or bad. His favorite preachers, whom he frequently cites fro the pulpit, include John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, D.A. Carson, J.M. Boice, John MacArthur, and C.H. Spurgeon. From this list you can tell pretty much where he is coming from I think. So I want to get to know him better, and let him get to know me, but I confess I am a bit anxious. I'm cautiously optimistic about how he will respond to me, and the fact that I'm not a typical Roman Catholic, but we'll see how it goes.
Any thoughts or advice you have for me here are welcome. Since this is my wife’s pastor, I want to have an honest and mutually respectful relationship with him as a brother.
Other than that, the articles on N.T. Wright in the final edition of the ACT 3 Journal have made me want to start reading his work. He sounds like a brilliant and spiritually rich theologian. What book of his would you recommend I start with?
That's all for now John, I just wanted to touch base with you. Life' was very, very busy in 2008. I am sure 2009 will not be much different. I see you're going to be in my hometown (Louisville) on January 30th and 31st. If you like fried seafood, try out the Kingfish Restaurant on the riverfront on the Clarksville/Jeffersonville side of the Ohio River. If you like other types of seafood plus a wider variety, check out "Captain's Quarters" on River Road near Harrod's Creek. The locals should be able to help you find either one.
Have a great New Year my brother and I'll be in touch. You and ACT 3 are ALWAYS in my prayers. God bless!
Your friend always,
Nick’s approach to his wife’s pastor is to be commended. He is practicing true ecumenism and demonstrates the love of Christ for all his people. You can see, from his letter, why I love him and treasure a relationship with a brother like Nick.