Here We Go Again

In a recent interview in Christianity Today, Charles Colson makes the claim that Pope Benedict affirms a biblical understanding of the doctrine of justification, pointing as evidence to a homily delivered by the Roman pontiff on November 19, 2008, in St. Peter’s Square. Toward the end of that homily, Pope Benedict says this:


Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St. Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5:14).


In other words, according to the pope, Luther’s phrase “faith alone” is true as long as “faith” is defined in such a way that it includes being conformed to the life of Christ, which is love.


So my question is this: Do people like Colson just not understand what it means to be justified through faith in Christ? Or do they simply pretend that the pope has it right even though they know he doesn’t?

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris Pixley on January 26, 2009 at 9:52 pm


  2. “Do people like Colson just not understand what it means to be justified through faith in Christ?”

    I think Colson does understand on an intellectual basis the historic reformation, protestant, biblical teaching. I cannot believe that a man of his intelligence does not. I have my doubts though as to whether he believes it.

    “Or do they simply pretend that the pope has it right even though they know he doesn’t?”

    I think they are trying hard to convince themselves and others that Rome is slowly moving in a Protestant direction on justification. I am not convinced. Its perfectly clear that while Rome couches her theological language in terms which are more appealing to a soft evangelical constituency, she is still wedded theologically to a works based salvation. Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is still anathema to this pope and the roman church.

  3. Why does anyone think for one minute that Chuck Colson is a theologian, or even understands theology. Is he smart? Yes. Is he a gifted writer? Yes. Is he a Christian? Sure appears to be. Has he had any theological training, any training on how to study the Bible, and does He study the Scriptures (I mean study, not read)? Obviously not, if he can’t get the distinctions between the Catholics and the Protestants over justification by faith alone, much less the other differences.

    Chuch Colson is a Christian celebrity, and that’s all we should expect him to be.

  4. Not that I have any special insight into Colson’s heart, but it would seem to me that he is cherry-picking statements from the Pope in hopes that the two sides really are getting closer together. However, as far as I know, the anathemas of Trent still stand, right? Therefore, aren’t we still accursed if we believe in justification by faith alone?

  5. Since historically this is a debate arising out of the Reformation, there is no question that Colson (et al.) stand apart from the key Reformers on these issues.

    One of the many times that Calvin addressed this issue was in 1543 writing his “Petit traicte” which was two letters addressed to Protestants in France living in a Roman Catholic setting. The letter caused so much trouble in France that Calvin wrote Luther to seek his opinion on the matter (possibly the only time Calvin contacted Luther). So what did Calvin say about fellowship with RC?

    Wulfert de Greff sums up, “if a believer cannot worship God in a correct manner and is forced to submit to wrong practices, it is best, says Calvin, to emigrate. If that is not possible, stay entirely away from Roman Catholic church services. Those who do not have the willpower for that and participate in the church services out of fear of others, should continually confess their guilt before God, so that their consciences do not fall asleep. Moreover they should pray to God for deliverance and then look for means to get out of their situation.”

  6. Wow,

    Too bad I’m no longer shocked by this stuff (not to say that I am not super disappointed).

    Isn’t Chuck Colson lucky that our God is a merciful God?

    Hopefully, God will convince him otherwise…

  7. Posted by Jerry Wragg on January 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Perhaps he’s simply hoping his catholic wife is regenerate…

  8. Posted by Scott Christensen on January 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    To expand upon what Jerry has said, all too often I think some people’s theology in practice (not in theory) is driven by what is most expedient in their experiences. It is easy to hold strong theological convictions when they are not challenged by any immediate situation that would tempt us to rethink them. It is difficult to hold to theological convictions when your enviornment is pressing you to compromise them or else suffer the consequences (e.g. ostracism, relational conflicts, threats of censure, loss of position, charges of intolerance or disunity or whatever). Many a would-be-martyr has thought twice once the heat of the flames begin to singe the conscience.

    I do not know if this describes Colson, but one has to wonder. I understand R. C. Sproul has had penetrating discussions with Colson on this matter. Who better to articualte the truth in thorough, straightforward and easy to understand terms? So, who knows – let us pray for the man.

  9. Posted by Brian Shealy on March 16, 2009 at 11:42 am

    shaeless plug: Both Colson & the Pope should read Steve Fernandez’ book: _Free Justification: The Glorification of Christ in the Justification of a Sinner_

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