Is the Reformation Over?

An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism

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Christianity Today 2006 Book Award Winner

 

"A clear, cogent, and evenhanded presentation. . . . This book is recommended as an admirable example of a well-balanced, reasonable, historically sensitive, and sympathetic call for ecumenical engagement and appreciation."--Marcus Johnson, Calvin Theological Journal

For the last few decades, Catholics and Protestants have been working to heal the wounds caused by centuries of mistrust. In this work, a Christianity Today 2006 Book Award winner, premier Christian historian Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom provide a critical evaluation of post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism and its relationship to the evangelical church. While not ignoring significant differences that remain, the authors provide a clarion call for a new appreciation among evangelicals of the current character of the Catholic Church.

This landmark book will appeal to those interested in the ongoing dialogue between Catholicism and evangelicalism, students of church history and/or contemporary theology, and pastors and church leaders.


Endorsements

"Most evangelicals affirm that we believe in 'one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.' We also want to make good on the prayer of Jesus found in John 17, 'that all of them may be one, Father, . . . so that the world may believe.' We long for the unity of the church--the catholicity of the church. To be sure, not many of us are ready to join the Roman Catholic Church. But in the West, at least, we are fooling ourselves if we think we can be catholic without engaging in earnest dialogue with Roman Catholics. If you agree but feel you need to do a lot of catching up before you can join the conversation, then this book by Noll and Nystrom is for you. It offers a charitable, easy-to-read introduction to the progress of the dialogue since the days of the Reformation."--Douglas Sweeney, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author of The American Evangelical Story

"Here is superb theological journalism. The authors review Roman Catholic alterations of posture, if not of position, during the past half century; assess the overall shift as irreversible and transformational; and speculate provocatively on the significance of current Catholic/evangelical interaction in today's divided Christendom. Their thorough historical analysis will be a landmark resource for exploring the theological questions that Roman Catholic reconfiguration raises. This is an important book."--J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College

"Noll and Nystrom have been studying the relationship between evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics for twenty years, and this book is a lively digest of their discoveries. Things are not the way they used to be between evangelicals and Catholics, and the authors show us why--citing the Second Vatican Council's reforms, the charismatic movement, worldwide church growth and renewal, decades of theological dialogue, and a common opposition to secular relativism. The authors are careful to point out both the convergences and the continuing disagreements in doctrine, church order, and witness that evangelicals and Catholics encounter. In the end, however, Noll and Nystrom give us a hopeful and appreciative book. It is the mature reflection of evangelicals who understand their own tradition's strengths and weaknesses and who have come to know a great deal about contemporary Catholicism as well. This is a book for evangelicals about Catholics, and there is no better guide of its kind. I suspect that Catholics would also profit from reading it."--Joel A. Carpenter, provost and professor of history, Calvin College

"Twenty years ago, this book could not have been written. Since then, much has happened between evangelicals and Catholics--much that few observers of American religious history would ever have predicted. Noll and Nystrom provide us with a fact-filled chronicle, especially of the exchanges, convergences, conflicts, and even agreements of the past two decades. As critical of evangelicals as they are of Catholics, the authors provide an overall assessment of the current dialogue that is hopeful but not without a number of challenges in the form of real differences, articulated with candor and genuine Christian conviction. Reading this book makes me, as a Catholic committed to the ecumenical imperative, want to jump right in with the hope that even more progress can be made."--James L. Heft, SM, professor of faith and culture and chancellor, University of Dayton

"The Reformation is over only in the sense that to some extent it has succeeded. This book examines, with scholarly care and sensitivity, recent evangelical-Roman Catholic developments that lend credence to this possibility. This book will help all of us who are committed to exploring the common heritage, as well as the differences that still remain, between the two largest faith communities in the Christian world."--Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School

"This book offers a superbly researched, documented, and engagingly argued case that a new era in Catholic/evangelical relations is dawning. Less clear is why this has happened. Is it because of diminished Catholic identity, disintegrating evangelical theology, or the intrusions of (post)modernity that inclines people to be neither Protestant nor Catholic but simply religious? It is hard to know."--David F. Wells, Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"The constructive relationship between American Catholics and conservative evangelicals is little more than a decade old. It is now public and promising yet still highly problematic and tenuous. Especially on the evangelical side, to talk collegially with and about Catholics is often to risk public attack and professional harm. Noll and Nystrom have taken the risk and produced a volume remarkable for its intellectual maturity and depth. Not since Berkouwer's great works on Catholicism have we seen anything like this. Written with utter clarity and directness, undergirded by immense historical and theological scholarship, this volume is the best available statement of the relationship and by itself is a vital step in making informed conversation between the parties possible."--William M. Shea, College of the Holy Cross; author, The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America


The Authors

  1. Mark A. Noll

    Mark A. Noll

    Mark A. Noll (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. One of the nation's most distinguished practitioners of American religious history, he is the author of dozens of...

    Continue reading about Mark A. Noll

  2. Carolyn Nystrom

    Carolyn Nystrom

    Carolyn Nystrom, a freelance writer, is based in St. Charles, Illinois.

    Continue reading about Carolyn Nystrom

Reviews

Christianity Today 2006 Book Award Winner

"While largely positive in evaluating contemporary Catholicism, this work is not sanguine in considering the Catholic church or the future of Evangelical-Catholic unity. The authors identify failures and scandals within each church and address a number of theological issues (e.g., ecclesiology, sacraments, the role of Mary) that require serious conversation. Timely and instructive, this book is suitable for university and community libraries with strong religion circulation."--David I. Fulton, Library Journal

"The eminent evangelical historian Noll and journalist Nystrom offer a lucid and charitable account of the current state of evangelical-Catholic relations. Only scant decades ago, they point out, Protestants inveighed against 'the formalism, the anthropocentric worship, the power mongering, and the egotism' of Rome. But now, they wryly observe, all those qualities 'flourish on every hand within Protestant evangelicalism.' This willingness to see the proverbial beam in one's own eye is one of the great strengths of this book, which has as much to say about the authors' own Christian tradition as about Rome. . . . Catholics will appreciate the authors' focus on official teaching, especially their appreciative, though not uncritical, survey of the Church's Catechism."--Publishers Weekly

"An important primer on evangelical attitudes and the theology that lies behind them, as well as a blueprint for those who would deepen the bonds of communion with other Christians. It is a particularly important contribution because it attempts to put the historical differences in perspective and to sort out which are valid theological critiques and which are unreflective, and often unfounded, cultural presuppositions. . . . Noll and Nystrom are gracious, clear and winsome in their descriptions. They are hopeful and realistic in their prognostications. . . . They include a helpful bibliography for further reading. Their final conclusions about basic differences and fundamental common ground provide both a bracing and hopeful alternative to those indifferent to or despairing of developments together in Christ."--Brother Jeff Gros, FSC, Catholic News Service

"This is a book that evangelicals will read with much benefit. I commend it highly."--Harold Jantz, Christian Week

"Readers will learn much about modern efforts to improve evangelical-Catholic relations. However, they may benefit most from Noll and Nystrom's irenic (and reluctantly critical) exploration of what still divides us. . . . So is the Reformation over? Eyeing the serious differences that remain, Noll and Nystrom are not prepared to go that far. But they do explain why the question is now on the table."--Collin Hansen, Christianity Today

"Whatever happened to the chilly climate that once characterized relationships between conservative Catholics and Protestants? . . . That is the intriguing question posed by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom in Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism. It is a study describing a major reassessment and change of attitude concerning what was a chronically entrenched church conflict."--Wayne A. Holst, Toronto Star

"I predict that this book will be chosen as the best evangelical book of 2005. . . . With many evangelicals being former Catholics or having Catholic relatives, this book should not stay long on library shelves."--Church Libraries

"[A] useful, sympathetic book. . . . The authors make a very strong case about how a relationship characterized mostly by mutual antagonism between the sixteenth century and the 1950s has largely become one of mutual respect and even 'partnership' in recent decades. . . . Noll and Nystrom balance recently acknowledged agreements with remaining disagreements, rightly noting that 'ecclesiology represents the crucial difference between evangelicals and Catholics.' Indeed, they articulate well the foundational importance of Catholic ecclesiology for the whole of Catholic teaching and life."--Brad S. Gregory, Commonweal

"A scholarly, sensitive study of the issues."--Alan Cochrum, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Is the Reformation Over? is a well-informed and respectful overview of the recent and growing rapprochement between Catholics and evangelicals."--Charlene Spretnak, National Catholic Reporter

"[A] meticulous, thoughtful and provocative examination of the various historical, theological and cultural roots of today's increased understanding."--Relevant

"Noll and Nystrom have provided a clear, cogent, and evenhanded presentation of their topic, particularly to be commended for its attention to the historical circumstances that shape religious antagonism. The reader interested in further research is sure to benefit, in addition, from the helpful referencing in the footnotes and the valuable bibliography. . . . This book is recommended as an admirable example of a well-balanced, reasonable, historically sensitive, and sympathetic call for ecumenical engagement and appreciation."--Marcus Johnson, Calvin Theological Journal

"[The authors] are eminently fair in assessing Roman Catholicism from an Evangelical perspective. . . . This is a hopeful book and makes excellent reading."--Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, Reformed Theological Review

"Noll is noted for his objectivity and balance in treating complex historical events and different understandings of doctrinal issues between groups within Christendom. . . . The authors deserve our appreciation for a job well done."--Ralph MacKenzie, ACT 3 Review

"Includes a broad . . . range of sources. . . . Accessible. . . . A superb contribution to our rapidly growing literature of Catholic-Protestant relations."--David Thomas, Christian Scholar's Review

"The authors engage us in a lively history. . . . A lot of necessary background is covered in a very helpful way, beginning with the admission that things have changed rather substantially in the last forty years. The causes of the changes are explored and will certainly open the eyes of the reader who is interested in the development of the relationship between the two Christian communities. Furthermore, the tone of the book is positive and encourages all who read it to reconsider their attitudes and perspectives toward more constructive dialogue. Each of the chapters provides the reader with helpful historical and theological information and developments. . . . This book helpfully contributes to the growing literature and is unique because of its irenic tone."--John Nyquist, Trinity Journal

"For the non-Catholic reader who is interested in Catholic teaching, the authors provide an insightful analysis of the official Catechism of the Catholic Church while at the same time recommending that readers study the Catechism for themselves. . . . I recommend the book to anyone interested in modern Catholic-evangelical dialogue."--R. Allen Diles, Restoration Quarterly

"[The authors] have made the effort to understand the other (i.e. Catholicism) from within a Catholic framework. This is a profound achievement. . . . The book is an important contribution to an emerging new relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals."--Tom Dowd, Ecumenism

"Careful readers of this excellent history must determine for themselves whether on two key issues of the Reformation, sola scriptura and sola fide, the Roman Catholic Church has indeed been reformed. . . . Noll and Nystrom provide a scholarly and readable resource for addressing these crucial issues."--Mark Holman, Presbyterians Today

"Noll and Nystrom tell their important story with engaging prose and evident concern for religious and theological issues. The book is most successful in its description of the momentous changes presently taking place in evangelical-Catholic relationships (especially in North America). The authors persuasively document these seismic historic shifts by appealing to a rich variety of sources, including official church documents, social science surveys, popular pamphlets, and secondary monographs. (See also the excellent annotated bibliography at the end of the book.) Evangelicals who want to understand the changing topography of the confessional landscape will find much help from the authors' historic survey of Catholic-Protestant dialogues, as well as their description of the genesis and progress of ECT."--Scott M. Manetsch, Trinity Journal

"[A] fascinating book. . . . This work represents a historically informed exercise in spiritual discernment. The authors place their finely honed historical skills at the service of Christ-followers who are baffled by the changing church-and-world scene. The authors do far more than observe and describe the awkward Evangelical-Catholic dance. With trained ears and eyes, they assess the movements and the music of the dance, discerning harmony, as well as discord and dissonance. . . . This work provides an excellent overview and assessment of Evangelical-Catholic relations. Moreover, as bonus the book includes an extensive, generously annotated, bibliography. . . . Wherever Evangelical and Catholic dancers turn to face each other, this book will prove to be an immense help in joining the dance less awkwardly, in discerning the musical harmonies and dissonances more clearly, and in encountering the other more graciously."--George Vandervelde, Evangelical Review of Theology

"'In a word, ecclesiology represents the crucial difference between evangelicals and Catholics.' This belief shapes Is the Reformation Over? and is, I think--I write as a Catholic--its most important contribution to Catholic-Evangelical relations. . . . To their credit, [the authors] examine deep and difficult matters with care and moderation. . . . Is the Reformation Over? is most successful as a systematic, historical documentation of a complicated and often contentious relationship. This is to be expected of Noll, whose outstanding works of church history are marked by careful research and well-measured opinions."--Carl E. Olson, Touchstone

"This timely discussion provides an excellent overview of the changes in the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II and fairly deals with remaining problems between Catholics and evangelicals. . . . [The volume's] value may be found in its explanation of official Roman Catholic teaching and insightful comparison with evangelical doctrine."--L. Thomas Smith Jr., Stone-Campbell Journal

"This book is worthy of a wide reading. . . . In the end readers will be better informed about the question in the title and the state of religious dialog. . . . This book is fair, balanced, respectful, truthful, charitable, and well written. It models an evenhanded and gentle treatment of a controversial topic."--Glenn R. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra

"[The authors] have co-laboured to produce what is both a survey of Roman Catholic-Evangelical dialogues over the past 50 years as well as a theological introduction to Roman Catholic theology for today's Evangelical. The book is worthwhile for these twin foci alone. . . . This is an important book. . . . Noll and Nystrom provide considerable references and an invaluable annotated bibliographic section. . . . We ought to appreciate the invaluable work the authors offer to those who wish to further knowledgeable debate, study and discussion. . . . Noll and Nystrom put their finger on the pulse of the issue. . . . [They] model irenic debate. This is no small contribution. In an age when there exists too much polarisation as well as too much romaticising, too much vitriol as well as too much naïveté, and too much derogation as well as too much superficiality, Noll and Nystrom's work is a welcome model."--Gavin J. McGrath, Churchman

"[This] book is written in a way that makes it accessible to the introductory student or moderately informed layperson. . . . Noll and Nystrom provide a handy guide to the present state of Catholic-Evangelical relations in North America. . . . The great virtue of Noll and Nystrom's study is its positive and straightforward account of Catholic teaching from an Evangelical perspective. . . . The recent rapprochement between Evangelicals and Catholics is a truly historic shift. Noll and Nystrom both trace this shift and contribute to its deepening. For this, all Christians committed to the reconciliation of the churches should applaud their writing. . . . They make a genuine contribution both to the discussion between Evangelicals and Catholics and to the larger ecumenical enterprise. It is heartening to see Evangelicals of such stature entering the ecumenical endeavor."--Michael Root, Pro Ecclesia

"A remarkable book about the recent relationship between Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. . . . The ambitious nature of [the authors'] project is immediately apparent as the reader is taken on a whirlwind tour of Protestant and Catholic animosity, spanning five centuries, and recent manifestations of Roman Catholic and evangelical cooperation. The difficult task before Noll and Nystrom is taking all of these manifestations and making sense of them for the reader. Given the amount of information with which they deal, they do an admirable job. Nonetheless, even as a scholar of American religious history and evangelicalism, I found myself grateful for the 'taking stock' summaries concluding each chapter. History is the strength of this book. Here the authors' expertise shines. . . . Noll and Nystrom have produced a work that is scholarly, well informed, and simply the best book on this subject to come from the evangelical camp. . . . That so much could be accomplished in a single volume is a credit to the authors and their remarkable grasp on history and theology. . . . Noll and Nystrom have helped pave the way toward a new examination and understanding between two groups who are called to take seriously Jesus' high priestly prayer that we should all be one."--J. Michael Utzinger, Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society

"[A] bold and timely book. . . . [It] is distinguished by formidable levels of erudition and a remarkable balance between historical and theological modes of discourse rarely seen in contemporary academic writing. The authors, unapologetically self-identified as evangelical Christians, speak with the candor and sensitivity to the 'other' that all veterans of intrareligious dialogue recognize as both the origins and the results of authentic ecumenical progress. . . . The authors address the evangelical tradition self-critically and take great pains to understand Catholic tradition from an empathetic point of view. . . . The most impressive sections of the book . . . are those that focus on the 'lived' experience of evangelicals and Catholics. . . . The book's greatest theological achievement, its sustained reflection on the central place of ecclesiology in evangelical-Catholic dialogue, invites further research and upgraded conversation on the broad theme of authority in Christianity."--Peter A. Huff, Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society

"Is the Reformation Over? is a remarkable achievement in ecumenical analysis with respect to the relation between evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. . . . [An] excellent book."--Kimlyn J. Bender, Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society

"[Noll] ranks as an historian above even John Tracy Ellis, the previous generation's premier historian of American Catholicism, in terms of his effect on his fellow historians and in sheer achievement. . . . His book is cluttered with carefully considered evidence for these propositions: that the Reformation dialectic has been transcended in certain respects, that it isn't quite over in some serious matters, and that the context of talk between evangelicals and Catholics has changed dramatically since the second Vatican Council. Though the Reformation may not be over, the field for Christian conversation and mutual correction is wide open. The Evangelicals and Catholics Together dialogues (ECT) and Noll's book itself are substantive signals, even patterns, for what is coming to be."--William M. Shea, Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society

"[A] provocative book. . . . [It] furnishes an incisive exposition of the changing religio-historical landscape since Vatican II which has surprisingly been marked by amiable relations between evangelicals and Catholics. . . . [It includes] excellent summaries of the major sixteenth-century doctrinal disputes between Catholics and Protestants and of the anti-Catholic animus engendered by the eighteenth-century American political experiment. . . . The authors are to be commended for their meticulousness in accurately presenting the positions of various camps on finely nuanced doctrines such as justification and evangelism. . . . It is this reviewer's hope that the liberal-conservative barriers to full Christian unity might be addressed by Noll and Nystrom in a second volume with the same scholarly care and sensitivity as they displayed in treating the conflicts relevant primarily to conservatives. But as a historical exploration of these conflicts from the sixteenth century to the present and their increasing resolutions since the 1960s, this book will with profit be read by all."--Kirk R. MacGregor, Sixteenth Century Journal

"The authors examine not only some helpful history of Evangelicalism and Catholicism but also some very insightful observations. . . . Noll and Nystrom have produced an exceptional work; well researched and insightful. . . . For those interested in either Roman Catholicism or ecumenical relations between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism this book should certainly make it onto your reading list."--Jeffrey Anderson, Pneuma Review

"Is the Reformation Over? does an excellent job of surveying the historical relations between Catholics and Protestants and the changes of the last half century from an impartial perspective. . . . Noll and Nystrom have supplied a superb understanding of how we have reached this point while maintaining the distinction between the history they can reflect upon and the future that remains to be seen."--Albert McIlhenny, christianbookreviews.net

"An informative and instructive chronicle of two major worldwide faith communities and their relationship with one another. . . . The book is most informative as it traces and documents the declining animosity between Protestants and Catholics over the last 60 years."--Jo Ann Davidson, Andrews University Seminary Studies