The New Catholic Evangelization

Dan R. Smedra

There exists today the clear need for a new evangelization.  As the
year 2000 approaches, our world feels an urgent need for the Gospel.
                                                                         Pope John Paul II

Introduction

In an effort to mitigate widespread nominalism and defection from Roman Catholicism over the past several decades (1), as well as cope with the pandemic of homosexually-transmitted AIDS (2) amongst its priesthood, the Papacy and the Catholic Church worldwide have renewed support for both clerical and lay apologetics and evangelism.  Similar to the 16th Century Counter-Reformation, a new evangelization effort is in full swing.  Numerous Catholic apologetic websites have made their debut on the Internet. 

Like their Jesuit predecessors, many of the new apologists are intellectual heavyweights skilled at argumentation and sophistry.  A key stratagem in their defense and promotion of Catholicism is to side-step issues by claiming that critics do not understand the true Roman Catholic Church or true Catholics.  This offense/defense is effected by something of a shell game.  Critics of Catholic life and practice will be told they don't understand and then directed to Church teachings and documents, critics of official dogma will be told they don't understand and then pointed to the apologists, critics of the apologists will be told they don't understand...and around and around it goes.  For example, Baptist pastor David W. Cloud explains:

Roman Catholics...allege, I don't understand Roman Catholicism and I don't have my facts right. These people usually tell me that to understand Roman Catholicism properly I must read some Catholic apologist such as Karl Keating or Keith Fournier or Peter Kreeft.  I have been answering these charges for sixteen or seventeen years, since they were first made to me by Jesuit priests in Southeast Asia.  I base my views of the Roman Catholic Church directly upon its authoritative declarations, such as the Council of Trent, Papal Bulls, Vatican II Council, and the New Catholic Catechism.  These contain the voice of authoritative Roman Catholicism.   Keating, Fournier or Kreeft are Roman Catholics and they have their own opinions and interpretations about Roman Catholicism, but they are not authoritative voices for the Roman Catholic Church.  Letting a Catholic apologist "explain" Catholicism is akin to letting a political "spin doctor" explain what Bill Clinton said in his last speech.

When I have wanted to know what genuine Roman Catholicism is, I have gone directly to the top.  I have built a large library of Roman Catholic materials and I have taken the time to study them carefully.  I have visited Catholic churches and masses in six countries and have talked with Catholics in many parts of the world.  I have been to Rome and have toured the Vatican.  I have visited some of the largest Catholic shrines.  In reality, almost any doctrine can be found in the midst of the Roman Catholic Church.  There has always been a multitude of opinions within the Roman Catholic Church, but there also has always been an authoritative declaration of what the Roman Catholic Church officially believes.  Those who challenge me that I cannot properly reject Roman Catholicism because (they allege) I don't understand it (in spite of the fact that I have diligently studied its official writings), are the same ones who have rejected Baptist doctrine and speak against it.   Apparently they are capable of understanding and rejecting Baptist doctrine, but somehow I am not to be given that same power. (3)

While several testimonies are available by converts to Catholicism (Hahn, Currie, Shea, etc.), this critique begins with those we feel are representative of the growing "evangelical" journey to Rome.  Much has been written regarding the reprehensible statements of charismatics and neo-evangelicals: Pat Robertson (Christian Broadcasting Network), Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship Ministries), Don Argue (president, National Association of Evangelicals), William "Bill" Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ), Bill McCartney (Promise Keepers) and others.  For example, see The "Evangelical" Seduction by T. A. McMahon.  However, our focus will be on those evangelicals who have formally joined Catholicism like the Hahn's below.

As for my background, I was born and raised in Roman Catholicism.  A sort of Americanized, middle-class version of Frank McCort's Angela's Ashes.  Disillusioned by Catholic family life, Church dogma, and corrupt church leadership, I became a new-creation Christian in 1969 and have enjoyed growing fellowship with the Father and the Son -- Lord Jesus Christ, for nearly thirty years.  A brief testimony is available at the word "background" above, but I would encourage the visitors to complete this article before becoming side-tracked in any of the linked articles.

Finally, a word of advice to those very sincere Catholics who are attempting to follow the Pope's call for a "new evangelization" quoted above.  Rather than expending precious energy to convert non-Catholics to your sacramental system, zealous Catholics should focus on converting the millions of their brethren who embrace modernism, and the growing number of postmodernist Catholics, to a BIBLICAL THEISM.  Let this extreme hypocrisy cease! 

This web page is considered a dynamic document and will include added information as it becomes available.


Scott and Kimberly Hahn

NOTE:  Former Presbyterian, now converted Catholic, Scott Hahn has repetitively made the assertion that God called him into Roman Catholicism.  There are those, both Protestant and Catholic, who feel that Mr. Hahn's testimony should be uncritically accepted and that to offer an alternative explanation for the religious events in his life is less than morally honorable.  To his defenders we say, "We lovingly disagree."

Scott and Kimberly Hahn are former evangelical Presbyterians who became Catholics in 1986 and 1990, respectively.  To document their conversion to Catholicism, they "jointly" authored the book, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, Ignatius Press (Catholic).  One abbreviated account is available via Scott Hahn's own web site and entitled THE SCOTT HAHN CONVERSION STORY: Protestant Minister Becomes Catholic.  A link is provided in the footnote section below.  Scott Hahn received his BA from Grove City College in Pennsylvania with a triple major of Theology, Philosophy and Economics.  He obtained his M Div from Gordon-Conwell Seminary in 1982.  In May 1995, he was awarded a PhD in Systematic Theology from Marquette University (Catholic).  Since 1990, he has served as Assistant Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, Ohio (Catholic).  A rather impressive pedigree, no?

The observations and comments made herein are based upon information solely contained in Scott Hahn's testimony and other articles available on the Internet together with my own experiences as a former Catholic and then new-creation Christian of nearly thirty-five years.  Had I encountered Scott and Kimberly's story shortly after my conversion, having been delivered from the spiritual darkness of Catholicism and as a babe to Scriptural Christianity, I probably would have been mystified by the Hahns' religious experience.  However, subsequent to my new birth, a family member's account of their conversion from Methodism to Catholicism, and then from Catholicism to Scriptural Christianity would help provide an explanation of how something like this might happen.

This evaluation attempts to focus upon select theological issues, firmly believing that there exists a cause/effect relationship between belief and behavior.  I don't claim to comprehend the complexity of emotional and psychological factors which may have come to bear in the Hahns' individual lives.  However, it is my opinion that Scott and Kimberly did not find true spiritual sustenance in the Reformed [a term used to denote those traditions with a direct heritage to the Calvinist wing of the Protestant Reformation] realm and thus were progressively drawn to Catholicism largely due to the inherent errors and deficiencies of their Protestant background.  At the heart of the problem, they failed, both past and present, to receive and embrace a clear understanding of the Gospel of Grace, as ministered by the Lord Jesus Christ via the writings of the Apostle Paul.  Rather than the Cross and Christ-life for spiritual growth, their Presbyterianism served up the deadening standard of law as a "rule of life."  Tragically, these doctrinal errors laid the groundwork for their descent into the realm of the largest expression of Christian humanism--Roman Catholicism. 

Scott Hahn was born and raised in the liberal, Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  He testifies of having become a Christian during his teen years while associated with the largely non-doctrinal, non-denominational youth group, Young Life.  Later in college, he served on staff of Young Life and there met his bride-to-be, Kimberly who shared a Presbyterian background.   Both Kimberly's father and uncle were Presbyterian ministers.  Scott writes:

I wanted to in effect repay God out of gratitude for how He had used Young Life in my life to introduce me to Christ. (4)

In his senior year of high school he wrote a research paper explaining what he believed was the core difference between his own Reformed background and the Roman Catholic Church.  Repeatedly throughout his testimony, Scott views himself as formerly a stalwart Calvinist, as well as hardcore anti-Catholic.

I wrote a paper entitled Sola Fide. That's a Latin phrase which means Faith Alone or By Faith Alone.  It's actually the phrase that Martin Luther used to launch the Protestant Reformation.  He said that we are justified, we are made right with God by faith alone, not by any works that we might do.   And for him, that was the article on which the church stands or falls, as he put it.  And because of that, the Catholic Church fell and the Protestant Church rose.

While Protestantism arose, the Catholic Church did not fall.  Not only did Scott have history wrong, his theology was inaccurate as well.  Sola Fide was only one of the principles of the 16th century Reformers.  For Luther, Sola Fide was not the cor ecclesiae--the 'heart of the church'.  For Hahn to claim that it was preeminent for Luther (rather than preeminent in Hahn's own mind), that Sola Fide was "the article on which the church stands or falls" belies church history from the Reformation perspective and is simply wrong.

Herein lies the one fundamental misconception and common error that possibly brought the Hahns down.  Martin Luther's dispute with the Catholic Church ran far deeper than Sola Fide.  At the center of the 16th century controversy was a deadly serious disagreement regarding what it meant to be a "sinner"--the consequences of mankind's Fall as first recorded in Genesis and then elaborated upon throughout the remainder of Scripture. 

At the core, the Protestants charged the Catholics with having minimized what Scripture had to say on the subject of sin.  This theological conflict [over hamartiology] was recorded in a written exchange between Luther and the religious humanist, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam.  In an attack upon Luther's axiom, Erasmus published Diatribe seu collatio de libero arbitrio (Discussion, or Collation, concerning Free-Will) on September 1, 1524.  In response to Diatribe, Luther penned De Servo Arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will) which appeared in December 1525, twenty-two years before the Roman Catholic Council of Trent.  With passion, Martin Luther wrote:

Now, my good Erasmus, I entreat you for Christ's sake to keep your promise at last.  You promised that you would yield to him who taught better than yourself.  Lay aside respect of persons!  I acknowledge that you are a great man, adorned with many of God's noblest gifts--wit, learning and an almost miraculous eloquence, to say nothing of the rest; whereas I have and am nothing, save that I would glory in being a Christian.  Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account--that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue.  You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like--trifles, rather than issues--in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.  (bold emphasis mine). (6)

Contrary to Scott Hahn's statements, the issue of Sola Fide was secondary in Luther's theology.  As Luther laid out in his Bondage, the essential issue, the vital spot was the subject of human depravity and the will.  He considered the issue to be the cor ecclesiae--the 'heart of the church'.   Both Erasmus and the Roman Catholic Church argued that the Fall had not stripped man of his "free will"; while Luther stood for the Scriptural truth that unregenerate man, with volition intact, was in bondage to sin.  Although nearly 475 years have passed, the conflict remains basically unchanged!  Amazingly, few modern-day Protestants, evangelicals, or Catholics have ever read Luther's own magnum opus.  For further detail regarding this issue and the widespread error of Christian humanism, see my article THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE. 

In addition, there was argument over the authoritative basis for such views.  In short, both sides attempted to define the true meaning and consequence of the word "die" in Genesis 2:17 and the phrase "in his [Adam's] own likeness, in his own image" in Genesis 5:3.  Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952) framed the importance of the issue in these words:

There is a justification for the fact that the two great doctrines--sin and redemption--go hand in hand.  It is sin that has drawn out redemption from the heart of God, and redemption is the only cure for sin.  These two realities, in turn, become measurements of each other.  Where sin is minimized, redemption is automatically impoverished since its necessity is by so much decreased. (5)

After college, both Scott and Kimberly enrolled at the neo-evangelical, Reformed/Covenant Gordon-Conwell Seminary north of Boston in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.  Gordon-Conwell is one of several American Protestant schools which teach the Reformation "covenant" system of theology (7).  During the educational process, the student typically becomes thoroughly indoctrinated in this restrictive approach to interpreting Scripture.  True to the seminary's pedagogic mission, Scott Hahn wrote:

I had come upon this strong conviction that if you want to know God, you have to understand the covenant, because the covenant was the central idea in all of Scripture.

While the concept of "covenant" is certainly an important biblical doctrine, its overemphasis can obscure the self-evident and inherent distinctions found during any unprejudiced examination of  Scripture.  For the Reformed tradition, "covenant" represents a unifying principle and an overarching interpretive key for understanding the Bible.  However, the desired results have eluded both former and modern-day heirs of the Reformation.  Consequently, while some are turning back to Rome, others like leaders of the "reconstructionist" wing of the Reformed tradition, have abandoned historical Covenant Theology and are attempting to hammer out new and improved versions of the covenant scheme.  For example, in the preface to Ray R. Sutton's THAT YOU MAY PROSPER - Dominion By Covenant, publisher Dr. Gary North writes:

...the author [Sutton] has found the key above all other keys to interpreting the Bible.  We have waited over three millennia for someone to say plainly: "This is what the Bible is really all about."  No doctrine of the Bible can be properly understood without the outline or covenant model found in this book.

...covenant theologians are wandering in a fog -- that is to say, for four hundred years, they have wandered in a fog.  Although covenant theology as a separate field is as old [new] as the Reformation, and specifically the Calvinist wing, it has never been definitively outlined before.  This may seem incredible to scholars and historians, but a careful reading of such supposedly magisterial histories as those written about the American Puritans by Harvard scholar Perry Miller will bog the reader down very fast.  Miller did not outline the key elements of what he called 'Federal theology' in any one place, nor have subsequent scholars.  There is a good reason for this: neither did the covenant theologians. (8)

At one point, Scott Hahn's quest to understand the insufficiency of Reformed theology lead to others who were also questioning:

During my third and final year at seminary, something happened that represented a crisis for me.  I was studying covenant and I heard of another theologian studying covenant, a man by the name of Professor [Norman] Shepherd in Philadelphia teaching at Westminster Seminary.  I heard about Shepherd because he was being accused of heresy.   People were suggesting that his heresy grew out of his understanding of the covenant.

Then somebody told me, "Shepherd is calling into question Sola Fide."   What!  No way.  I mean, that is the Gospel.  That is the simple truth of Jesus Christ.  He died for sins; I believe in him.  He saves me, pure and simple; it's a done deal.  Sola Fide?  He's questioning that?  No way.

I called him on the phone.  I said, "I've read your stuff on covenant; it makes lots of sense.  I've come to pretty much the same conclusions.  But why is this leading you to call into question Luther's doctrine of Sola Fide?"  He went on to show in this [phone] discussion that Luther's conception of justification was very restricted and limited.  It had lots of truth, but it also missed lots of truths.

When I hung up the phone, I pursued this a little further and I discovered that for Luther and for practically all of Bible Christianity and Protestantism, God is a judge, and the covenant is a courtroom scene whereby all of us are guilty criminals.  But since Christ took our punishment, we get his righteousness, and he gets our sins, so we get off scot-free; we're justified.  For Luther, in other words, salvation is a legal exchange, but for Paul in Romans, for Paul in Galatians, salvation is that, but it's much more than that.

Sadly, Scott Hahn did not pursue the issue far enough.  Had he continued to search, he may have discovered other Reformed leaders who had also come to understand the limitations of the Reformation view of redemption.  One such individual, Leonard Verduin (1897-1999), (A.M. from the University of Michigan and Th.B degree from Calvin Theological Seminary) wrote:

We meet in Luther, to put it theologically, a very heavy emphasis on the forensic aspect of salvation and a correspondingly light emphasis on the moral aspect.  Luther was primarily interested in pardon, rather than in renewal [new life].  His theology was a theology that addresses itself to the problem of guilt [sins], rather that to the problem of pollution [sin].  There is an imbalance in this theology between what God does for man and what He does in man. (9)

The trapped Scott Hahn continues:

One of my most brilliant [?] professors, a man named Dr. John Gerstner (10), had once said, "that if we're wrong on Sola Fide, I'd be on my knees outside the Vatican in Rome tomorrow morning doing penance."  Now we laughed, what rhetoric, you know.  But he got the point across; this is the article from which all of the other doctrines flow.  And if we're wrong there, we're going to have some homework to get done to figure out where else we might have gone wrong.

Scott Hahn never got the "homework" done.  Had he not been so negatively influenced by the anti-dispensational views of his professors, he may have gotten an opportunity to study the following comments made by ex-Presbyterian minister Lewis Sperry Chafer, Bible commentator William R. Newell, and Christian author Miles J. Stanford:

The Reformers did not restore all features of doctrine, and along with justification by faith retained the Romish notion that the Church is the Kingdom, fulfilling the Davidic covenant, and appointed to conquer the world by bringing it under the authority of the Church.  This idea has prevailed in spite of the clear, uncomplicated testimony of the New Testament that this dispensation must end in unprecedented wickedness.

A theology [Covenant] which penetrates no further into Scripture than to discover that in all ages God is immutable in His grace toward penitent sinners, and constructs the idea of a universal Church (continuing through the ages), and the one truth of immutable grace, is not only disregarding vast spheres of revelation, but is reaping the unavoidable confusion and misdirection which part-truth engenders.

To many the only body of interpretation which is orthodox is that which was recovered by the Reformers, or that contained in an ancient doctrinal statement.   There is, however, a great body of truth which the Reformers were unable to consider and which is lacking in ancient creeds. (11)

According to Newell, "Almost all the theology of the various 'creeds of Christendom' date back to the Reformation, which went triumphantly to the end of Romans Five, and, so far as theological development or presentation of truth was concerned, stopped there. Consequently, you must not regard yourself as bound to accept all that legal doctrine of sanctification, which has been, and still is predominantly, the sine qua non of orthodox [Covenant] belief."

It was 350 years after the truths of substitution and new birth were reaffirmed [by Luther] that God restored the truths of identification and growth.  Foundational and far-reaching as the Reformation was, it proved to be but the ground-work for the vast array of growth and related truths that God made available through one, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). (12)

However, for Scott Hahn it was now too late.  While all Scripture is useful for "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness;" for Scott, all Scripture would receive the preparatory "covenantal" spin.  For some additional insight into the "Covenant" system, see The Subtle Errors of Covenant/Calvinist Theology and Christianity in Contrast.

Little did Scott understand what lay ahead.  His continued obsession with the covenant viewpoint would form the bridge for his journey into Catholicism and its erroneous sacramentalism.  At one point, a then skeptical wife Kimberly referred to Scott as "Luther in reverse."  Rather than repeat the details of his unfortunate story which is available at the link shown in footnote #3 below, I am only including some highlights from his testimony:

I began to turn to Catholic sources and read them.

In two years time, I had worked through several hundred books, and I began for the first time to read Catholic theologians and Scripture scholars.  And I was shocked at how impressive their insights were but even more, at how impressive their insights were which agreed with my own personal discoveries.

I discovered in my study that being born again does not mean accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord and asking Him into your heart -- although that is important and every believer, Catholic or otherwise, should have Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and a living personal relationship with Him.  But I discovered what Jesus meant in John 3 when He said that you've got to be born again.   He turns around and says that you've got to be born of water and spirit.  In the previous chapters He was just baptized with water and the Spirit descended upon Him.   And as soon as He is done talking to Nicodemus about the need to be born from water and Spirit, the very next verse says that Jesus and the disciples went about baptizing.   I taught that being born again is a covenant act, a sacrament, a covenant renewal involving baptism.  I shared this with my seminary students; they were convinced.

And in all covenants you have an opportunity to renew the covenant, and the act of covenant renewal is an act or a moment of grace.  When you renew a covenant, God releases grace, and grace is life, grace is power, grace is God's own love.

Meanwhile, I was preparing my sermons and some lectures ahead of John chapter 3.   I was delving into John chapter 6.  I don't know how many of you've ever studied the Gospel of John.  In many ways it's the richest Gospel of all.  But John chapter 6 is my favorite chapter in the fourth Gospel.  There I discovered something that I think I read before, but I never noticed.  Listen to it.   "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink His blood you have no life in you.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day, for my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.'"  I read that; I reread that; I looked at it from ten different angles.  I bought all these books about it, commentaries on John.   I couldn't understand how to make sense out of it.

Then the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. I watched and listened as the priest pronounced the words of consecration and elevated the host. And I confess, the last drop of doubt drained away at that moment.  I looked and said, "My Lord and my God."  As the people began going forward to receive communion, I literally began to drool, "Lord, I want you.  I want communion more fully with you.  You've come into my heart.  You're my personal Savior and Lord, but now I think You want to come onto my tongue and into my stomach, and into my body as well as my soul until this communion is complete.

First, I began to pray a rosary.  I was very scared to do this.  I asked the Lord not to be offended as I tried.  I proceeded to pray, and as I prayed I felt more in my heart what I came to know in my mind: I am a child of God.  I don't just have God as my Father and Christ as my brother; I have His Mother for my own.

God had made it so clear in Scripture on Mary, on the Pope, even on Purgatory from 1 Corinthians 3:15 and following, on the saints as God's family, as my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I was explaining to friends of mine how the Family of God is the master idea which makes sense out of all the Catholic faith.  Mary's our mother, the Pope is a spiritual father, the saints are like brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is a family meal, the feast days are like anniversaries and birthdays.  We are God's family.  I'm not an orphan; I've got a home.

What began as a doctrinal error, produced catastrophic results.  Scott and Kimberly Hahn are now willingly being used to draw others into Catholicism.  Scott has written the Forward to Patrick Madrid's SURPRISED BY THE TRUTH, which is a collection of testimonies of recent converts to Romanism. See the following:

Dave Armstrong - a disillusioned, liberal Methodist youth traces his Wesleyan evangelical roots to their source, then surprisingly [?] converts to Catholicism.

While many Catholics are delighted to hear of Scott and Kimberly's conversion, a few traditional members of the Roman Church are not so pleased.  Of late, Dr. Hahn has become something of a voice for the charismatic element within Catholic ranks, and upsetting the more conservative members.  See A "Catholic" Charismatic Extravaganza.

We end with a quote from one the early Brethren writers, C. H. Mackintosh and an email comment from a female RC convert (sheep to the slaughter):

It would have been a bold step from the church of Rome to the Church of God; and yet it will be found in the end that there is not distinct neutral ground between the two; for every church, or, to speak more accurately, every religious denomination, reared up and carried on by the wisdom and resources of man, be its principle ever so pure and ever so hostile to Catholicism, will be found, when judged by the Word of God, to partake more or less of the element of the Romish system--the usurper of Judaism. (13)

...since my [recent] decision to become Catholic, I wonder why everyone seems to have such a different experience leaving rather that arriving....


  1. For example, see: The Denomination Called Catholic, David R. Carlin, First Things, Nov. 1997.  Carlin writes, "The second reason for Catholic hope comes with the recruits from mainline Protestantism. As liberal Protestantism shows a continuing incapacity to resist secularism both in society and in the churches themselves, anti-secularist members of these churches will be faced with three options. One is to stay and fight, a fight that becomes increasingly discouraging with the passage of time. A second is to switch by joining a conservative Protestant sect. And a third is to join the Catholics. There is no way of predicting what proportions will choose which option, but Catholicism is already getting its share. These new Catholics are deliberate and self-conscious opponents of the denominational ideal, and their mere presence in the Church slows the Catholic drift toward absolute denominationalism. If they are religious intellectuals, their writing, teaching, and preaching slow it down even more. This is nothing new—in the last two centuries some of the most effective Catholic opponents of liberal religion have come from the outside: John Henry Newman in England, Jacques Maritain in France, and others."  The sad irony for the Protestant defectors who become Catholic is that a similar form of secularism has been at work in Roman Catholicism as well.  The primary difference is that Protestants are more apt to leave and create independent churches, while Catholics engage in psychological denial regarding the magnitude of the problems.   
  2. HOMOSEXUALITY in CATHOLICISM
  3. YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ROMAN CATHOLICISM .
  4. THE SCOTT HAHN CONVERSION STORY: Protestant Minister Becomes Catholic.
  5. Systematic Theology, (Dallas, Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), Vol. 2, p. 224.
  6. THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL - translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston. (Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 319.
  7. A discussion of the various errors of Covenant Theology is beyond the scope of this brief paper.  But some short comments may be helpful to the reader.  While subject to intense debate, the roots of Covenant Theology can be traced to a development within the Reformation.  Dr. Kenneth H. Good wrote in Are Baptists Reformed?:
In this document [The Heidelberg Catechism -1563] we begin to see the ecclesiastical, formal, and creedal expression of what has come to be called 'Federal theology' or 'Covenant theology.'  This doctrinal development belonged essentially to the second generation of Reformers, of which [the Heidelberg's] German authors [Zacharius Ursinus and Kaspar Olevianus] were a part.
While the Heidelberg Catechism did not depart from the Reformed principle of Sola Scriptura, it did permit the intrusion of three influences which eventually came to undermine the Biblical and evangelical foundation upon which it was based.  Here we may observe: 1) the great influence of a creedalism which had a tendency to displace confessionalism.   2) the official sanction of Covenant theology as authoritative, which for the Reformed began largely to replace Biblical theology.  3) the intrusion of an experience-oriented faith in the place of one which rested primarily upon the Scriptures.

Following the early formulation of Covenant Theology in Germany, William Ames (1576-1633) and John Cocceius (1603-1669) further developed this interpretive system.  Again, Dr. Good:

The Westminster Confession represents a culmination or perfection of the 'Reformed Faith'...and it incorporates the full-grown flower of a developed Covenant theology.

Former Presbyterian minister Lewis Sperry Chafer understood the fallacies of Covenant Theology and the harm it had caused the Church.   Throughout his 8-volume Systematic Theology, he issued numerous warnings.   An excellent compilation of many of Dr. Chafer's comments is available via the manuscript,  Dr. Chafer on Covenant Theology.

  1. The reader should also realize that the Reformed tradition's ongoing attempt to discredit the 'dispensational' approach to understanding Scripture, on the basis of its so-called recent origin, remains both hollow and hypocritical.  For an extensive scholarly critique of Reconstructionism see Bruce Barron's HEAVEN ON EARTH? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
  2. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1980), p. 12.
  3. How tragic.  The late Dr. John H. Gerstner was a Christian humanist and rabid anti-dispensationalist.  In his bombastic book, WRONGLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH - A Critique of Dispensationalism, he made numerous false and ludicrous statements.  His irrational hatred was so extreme that he stated that those who adopt a dispensational view of Scripture could not possibly be born-again Christians.
  4. Systematic Theology, (Dallas, Dallas Seminary Press, 1947) Vol. 4, p. 257, 156; Vol. 5, 261.
  5. Miles J. Stanford, IDENTIFICATION HISTORY, (Colorado Springs, p. 2).  Prolific author, Miles Stanford has provided a synopsis of the soteriological truth upon which Scriptural Christianity is built.  Our History in the First Adam and Our History in the Last Adam are two samples of the seventy-one chapters, from his classic, THE COMPLETE GREEN LETTERS.   Visit his Web site at Miles J. Stanford.
  6. The Life and Times of Elijah: Concluding Remarks, Miscellaneous Writing of C.H.Mackintosh, (Nepture, Loizeaux Brothers, 1898) Vol. 5, p.147.

CLASSIC QUOTES

Comment received from a naive correspondent who was ready to step into the snare of the Catholic Church.

"...I wonder why everyone seems to have such a different experience leaving [Roman Catholicism] rather than arriving?"

 Answer?  Proverbs 1:17 states, "How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds!"

The reader may also want to read Dr. Michael J. Vlach's Why Are Evangelicals Converting to Roman Catholicism? "Michael has a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) and a Master of Divinity degree from The Master’s Seminary (John McArthur) in Sun Valley, California. He also has a fully accredited Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  Michael was also an assistant pastor for five years at Indian Hills Bible (now "Community") Church (Gil Rugh), also located in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Also, here is the Dr. Scot McKnight* article referenced by Dr. Vlach.  From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic

"A desire for transcendence is a crisis about the limitations of the human condition and a desire to go beyond the human experience. This occurs, for the ERC [evangelicals who convert to Catholicism], in four manifestations. First, the ERC wants to transcend the human limits of knowledge to find certainty; second, the ERC wants to transcend the human limits of temporality to find connection to the entire history of the Church; third, the ERC wants to transcend the human limits of division among churches to find unity and universality in the faith and Church; and fourth, the ERC wants to transcend the human limits of interpretive diversity to find an interpretive authority. These four desires—certainty, history, unity, and authority—are the four manifestations of the ERC’s crisis of transcendence."

 

* - Dr. McKnight is a professor at North Park University, Chicago, Illinois.  While he is "evangelical" only under the broadest of definitions and is non-dispensational, he does provide insight (as seen in the example above) to the sociological dimension of certain, religious conversions.

 

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