The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter between the Reformation

By Morrison, John D. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter between the Reformation


Morrison, John D., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter Between the Reformation. By Stephen Strehle. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996. 146 pp., $67.50.

With this new work that analyzes the various formative influences of medieval Catholic theological and philosophical thinking upon the central elements of the Ref ormation gospel, Stephen Strehle establishes himself yet more firmly as one of the finest and most capable evangelical historical theologians today. He is also a scholar willing to buck the tide, the accepted views, in the pursuit of a clearer picture of our theological underpinnings, especially in relation to late medieval, reformational, and post-reformational scholastic developments. In Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel, Strehle exposes the glaring error of much of Protestantism's view of medieval Catholicism, a view often espousing pure antithesis and the creation of strawmen, and then clarifies the strong lineage all Protestants have in numerous developments in Roman Catholic thought. In this way he hopes too that healing and not further entrenchment result from the exposure of these connections. Through his process, Strehle is not intending to negate the "spirit of the Reformation" but to correct its more unfortunate tendencies-especially among the scholastic heirs.

After a helpful introduction Strehle wrestles with five of the many elements of the "Protestant gospel." In each case, we find that the "gospel" was not suddenly "recovered" by a pure, direct reading of Paul after centuries of "Romanist" or "papal" corruption, but arose directly and indirectly from several of the many streams of theological development which made up the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Indeed, it seems that much of the Reformation was not so much anti-Catholic at its heart as it was a specific response (and often a reaction) to the dominant Thomistic orthodoxy. In the face of this edifice, the Reformers are found to teach faith and assurance, certitude against "doctrines of doubt." Particular emphasis was placed upon the full saving effectiveness of Christ's past work upon the cross, security, deductivistic salvation schemes, and "federal" conditions of redemption.

Throughout his discussion, Strehle's purposes are largely genealogical, critical, and corrective. In uncovering the Catholic lineage of these elements of the Protestant gospel, he is able also to show the problematic effects in each case, effects which have usually ended in the loss of much of the original insights of the two leading Reformers, Luther and Calvin. Various lines of Catholic theological thinking-especially from Duns Scotus and Ockham, elements of predestinarian thought from Augustine and Erasmus, coupled with that ultimate theological guideline (!), Aristotle's "law of contradiction"are found to be the bases from which and by which Lutheranism and Calvinism, as distinct from Luther and Calvin, waged theological battle with the Thomistic orthodoxy of Roman Catholicism. But these Catholic theological elements, as coupled with the distinctive concerns of the Reformation, created seemingly insuperable tensions and destructive dichotomies/dualisms within the doctrines of God, Christ and redemption, tensions that Luther and Calvin were usually able to hold together.

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