3. The Gospel of Salvation
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals share a deep concern
for the content of the good news we proclaim. We are anxious on
the one hand to be faithful to the living core of the Christian
faith, and on the other to communicate it in contemporary terms.
How then shall we define the gospel?
Diagnosis must always precede prescription.
So, although human need is not strictly part of the good news,
it is an essential background to it. If the gospel is good news
of salvation, this is because human beings are sinners who need
to be saved.
In our description of the human condition,
however, we emphasize the importance of beginning positively.
We affirm that all men and women are made by God, for God and
in the image of God, and that sin has defaced but not destroyed
this purpose and this image (Gen 9:6; Jas 3:9). Therefore, as
the creation of God, human beings have an intrinsic worth and
dignity. Also, because of the light which lightens everybody,
we all have within us an innate desire for God which nothing else
can satisfy. As Christians, we must respect every human being
who is seeking God, even when the search is expressed in ignorance
Nevertheless original sin has intervened.
We have noted Thomas Aquinas' description of original sin, namely
"the loss of original justice" (i.e. a right relationship
with God) and such "concupiscence" as constitutes a
fundamental disorder in human nature and relationships; so that
all our desires are inclined towards the making of decisions displeasing
Evangelicals insist that original sin has
distorted every part of human nature, so that it is permeated
by self-centeredness. Consequently, the Apostle Paul describes
all people as "enslaved," "blind," "dead"
and "under God's wrath," and therefore totally unable
to save themselves.17
Roman Catholics also speak of original sin
as an injury and disorder which has weakened though not destroyed-human
free will. Human beings have "lifted themselves up against
God and sought to attain their goal apart from him."18
As a result this has upset the relationship linking man to God
and "has broken the right order that should reign within
himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures."19
Hence human beings find themselves drawn to what is wrong and
o f themselves unable to overcome the assaults of evil successfully,
"so that everyone feels as though bound by chains."20
Clearly there is some divergence between
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals in the way ave understand human
sin and need, as well as in the language ave use to express them.
Roman Catholics think Evangelicals overstress the corruption of
human beings by affirming their "total depravity" (i.e.
that every part of our humanness has been perverted by the Fall),
while Evangelicals think Roman Catholics underestimate it and
are therefore unwisely optimistic about the capacity, ability
and desire of human beings to respond to the grace of God. Yet
we agree that all are sinners, and that all stand in need of a
radical salvation which includes deliverance from the power of
evil, together with reconciliation to God and adoption into his
The Person of Jesus Christ
The radical salvation which human beings
need has been achieved by Jesus Christ. Evangelicals and Roman
Catholics are agreed about the centrality of Christ and of what
God has done through him for salvation. "The Father has sent
his Son as the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14). But who
was this Savior Jesus?
Jesus of Nazareth was a man, who went about
doing good, teaching with authority, proclaiming the Kingdom of
God, and making friends with sinners to whom he offered pardon.
He made himself known to his apostles, whom he had chosen and
with whom he lived, as the Messiah (Christ) promised by the Scriptures.
He claimed a unique filial relation to God whom in prayer he called
his Father ("Abba"). He thus knew himself to be the
Son of God, and exhibited the power and authority of God over
nature, human beings and demonic powers. He also spoke of himself
as the Son of man. He fulfilled the perfect obedience of the Servant
in going even to death on the cross. Then God raised him from
the dead, confirming that he was from the beginning the Son he
claimed to be (Ps 2:7). Thus he was both "descended from
David according to the flesh" and "designated Son of
God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection
from the dead" (Rom 1:3-4). This is why his apostles confessed
him as Lord and Christ, Son of God, Savior of humankind, sent
by the Father, agent through whom God created all things, in whom
ave have been chosen from before the foundation of the world (Eph
1:4), the Word made flesh.
The Incarnation of the Son was an objective
event in history, in which the divine Word took upon himself our
human nature. Within a single person were joined full divinity
and full humanity. Although this understanding of him was not
precisely formulated until the theological debates of the early
centuries, ave all agree that the Chalcedonian Definition faithfully
expresses the truths to which the New Testament bears witness.
The purposes of the Incarnation were to reveal
the Father to us, since otherwise our knowledge of God would have
been deficient; to assume our nature in order to die for our sins
and so accomplish our salvation, since he could redeem only what
he had assumed; to establish a living communion between God and
human beings, since only the Son of God made human could communicate
to human beings the life of God; to apply the basis of the imitatio,
since it is the incarnate Jesus ave are to follow; to reaffirm
the value and dignity of humanness, since God was not ashamed
to take on himself our humanity; to provide in Jesus the first
fruits of the new humanity, since he is the "firstborn among
many brethren" (Rom 8:29), and to effect the redemption of
the cosmos in the end.
So then, in fidelity to the gospel and in
accordance with the Scriptures, ave together confess the person
of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, who was born of the
Virgin Mary and became truly man, in order to be the Savior of
In our missionary task ave have not only
to confess Christ ourselves, but also to interpret him to others.
As ave do so, ave have to consider, for example, how to reconcile
for Jews and Moslems the monotheism of the Bible with the divine
sonship of Jesus, how to present to Hindus and Buddhist the transcendent
personalty of God, and how to proclaim to adherents of traditional
religion and of the new religious consciousness the supreme Lordship
of Christ. Our Christology must always be both faithful to Scripture
and sensitive to each particular context of evangelization.
The Work of Jesus Christ
It was this historic person, Jesus of Nazareth,
fully God and fully human, through whom the Father acted for the
redemption and reconciliation of the world. Indeed, only a person
who was both God and man could have been the mediator between
God and human beings. Because he was human he could represent
us and identify with us in our weakness. Because he was God he
could bear our sin and destroy the power of evil.
This work of redemption was accomplished
supremely through the death of Jesus Christ although ave acknowledge
the unity of his incarnate life, atoning death and bodily resurrection.
For his death completed the service of his life (Mark 10:45) and
his resurrection confirmed the achievement of his death (Rom 4:25).
Christ was without sin, and therefore had
no need to die. He died for our sins, and in this sense "in
our place." We are agreed about this basic truth and about
other aspects of the Atonement. But in our discussion two different
emphases have emerged, which we have summarized by the words "substitution"
and "solidarity," although these concepts are not altogether
Evangelicals lay much stress on the truth
that Christ's death was "substitutionary." In his death
he did something which he did not do during his life. He actually
"became sin" for us (2 Cor 5:21) and "became a
curse" for us (Gal 3-13). Thus God himself in Christ propitiated
his own wrath, in order to avert it from us. In consequence, having
taken our sin, he gives us his righteousness. We stand accepted
by God in Christ, not because Christ offered the Father our obedience,
but because he bore our sin and replaced it with his righteousness.
Roman Catholics express Christ's death more
in terms of "solidarity." In their understanding Jesus
Christ in his death made a perfect offering of love and obedience
to his Father, which recapitulated his whole life. In consequence,
we can enter into the sacrifice of Christ and offer ourselves
to the Father in and with him. For he became one with us in order
that we might become one with him.
Thus the word "gospel" has come
to have different meanings in our two communities. For Evangelicals,
it is the message of deliverance from sin, death and condemnation,
and the promise of pardon, renewal and indwelling by Christ's
Spirit. These blessings flow from Christ's substitutionary death.
They are given by God solely through his grace, without respect
to our merit, and are received solely through faith. When we are
accepted by Christ, we are part of his people, since all his people
are "in" him.
For Roman Catholics the gospel centers in
the person, message and gracious activity of Christ. His life,
death and resurrection are the foundation of the Church, and the
Church carries the living gospel to the world. The Church is a
real sacrament of the gospel.
So the difference between us concerns the
relationship between the gospel and the Church. In the one case,
the gospel reconciles us to God through Christ and thus makes
us a part of his people; in the other, the gospel is found within
the life of his people, and thus we find reconciliation with God.
Although pastoral, missionary and cultural
factors may lead us to stress one or other model of Christ's saving
work, the full biblical range of words (e.g. victory, redemption,
propitiation, justification, reconciliation) must be preserved,
and none may be ignored.
The Resurrection, we agree, lies at the heart
of the gospel and has many meanings. It takes the Incarnation
to its glorious consummation, for it is the human Christ Jesus
who reigns glorified at the Father's right hand, where he represents
us and prays for us. The Resurrection was also the Father's vindication
of Jesus, reversing the verdict of those who condemned and crucified
him, visibly demonstrating his sonship, and giving us the assurance
that his atoning sacrifice had been accepted. It is the resurrected
and exalted Lord who sent his Spirit to his Church and who, claiming
universal authority, now sends us into the world as his witnesses.
The Resurrection was also the beginning of God's new creation,
and is his pledge both of our resurrection and of the final regeneration
of the universe.
The Uniqueness and Universality o f Jesus Christ
In a world of increasing religious pluralism
we affirm together the absolute uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He
was unique in his person, in his death and in his resurrection.
Since in no other person has God become human, died for the sins
of the world and risen from death, we declare that he is the only
way to God (John 14:6), the only Savior (Acts 4-12) and the only
Mediator (1 Tim 2:5). None else has his qualifications.
The uniqueness of Jesus Christ implies his
universality. The one and only is meant for all. We therefore
proclaim him both "the Savior of the world" (John 4:12)
and "Lord of all" (Acts 10:36).
We have not been able to agree, however,
about the implications of his universal salvation and lordship.
Together we believe that "God... desires all men to be saved
and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4), that
the offer of salvation in Christ is extended to everybody, that
the Church has an irreplaceable responsibility to announce the
good news of salvation to all peoples, that all who hear the gospel
have an obligation to respond to it, and that those who respond
to it are incorporated into God's new, worldwide, multiracial,
multicultural community, which is the Father's family, the Body
of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. These aspects of
the universality of Christ we gladly affirm together.
Roman Catholics go further, however, and
consider that, if human sin is universal, all the more is Christ's
salvation universal. If everyone born into the world stands in
solidarity with the disobedience of the first Adam, still the
human situation as such has been changed by the definitive event
of salvation, that is, the Incarnation of the Word, his death,
his resurrection and his gift of the Spirit. All are now part
of the humanity whose new head has overcome sin and death. For
all there is a new possibility of salvation which colors their
entire situation, so that it is possible to say "Every person,
without exception, has been redeemed by Christ, and with each
person, without any exception, Christ is in some way united, even
when that person is not aware of that."21
To become beneficiaries of the obedience of the Second Adam, men
and women must turn to God and be born anew with Christ into the
fulness of his life. The mission of the Church is to be the instrument
to awaken this response by proclaiming the gospel, itself the
gift of salvation for everyone who receives it, and to communicate
the truth and grace of Christ to all.22
Evangelicals, on the other hand, understand
the universality of Christ differently. He is universally present
as God (since God is omnipresent) and as potential Savior (since
he offers salvation to all), but not as actual Savior (since not
all accept his offer). Evangelicals wish to preserve the distinction,
which they believe to be apostolic, between those who are in Christ
and those who are not (who consequently are in sin and under judgment),
and so between the old and new communities. They insist on the
reality of the transfer from one community to the other, which
can be realized only through the new birth: "if anyone is
in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).
The relationship between the life, death
and resurrection of Jesus and the whole human race naturally leads
Roman Catholics to ask whether there exists a possibility of salvation
for those who belong to non-Christian religions and even for atheists.
Vatican II was clear on this point: "Those also can attain
to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do
not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church." On the one
hand, there are those who "sincerely seek God and, moved
by his grace, strive by their deeds to do his will." On the
other, there are those who "have not yet arrived at an explicit
knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to
Both groups are prepared by God's grace to receive his salvation
either when they hear the gospel or even if they do not. They
can be saved by Christ, in a mysterious relation to his Church.
Evangelicals insist, however, that according
to the New Testament those outside Christ are "perishing,"
and that they can receive salvation only in and through Christ.
They are therefore deeply exercised about the eternal destiny
of those who have never heard of Christ. Most Evangelicals believe
that, because they reject the light they have received, they condemn
themselves to hell. Many are more reluctant to pronounce on their
destiny, have no wish to limit the sovereignty of God, and prefer
to leave this issue to him. Others 90 further in expressing their
openness to the possibility that God may save some who have not
heard of Christ, but immediately add that, if he does so, it will
not be because of their religion, sincerity or actions (there
is no possibility of salvation by good works), but only because
of his own grace freely given on the ground of the atoning death
of Christ. All Evangelicals recognize the urgent need to proclaim
the gospel of salvation to all humankind. Like Paul in his message
to the Gentile audience at Athens, they declare that God "commands
all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which
he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has
appointed" (Acts 17:30-31).
The Meaning of Salvation
In the Old Testament salvation meant rescue,
healing and restoration for those already related to God within
the covenant. In the New Testament it is directed to those who
have not yet entered into the new covenant in Jesus Christ.
Salvation has to be understood in terms of
both salvation history (the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ)
and salvation experience (a personal appropriation of what God
has done through Christ). Roman Catholics and Evangelicals together
strongly emphasize the objectivity of God's work through Christ,
but Evangelicals tend to lay more emphasis than Roman Catholics
on the necessity of a personal response to, and experience of,
God's saving grace. To describe this, again the full New Testament
vocabulary is needed (for example, the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation
with God, adoption into his family, redemption, the new birth
all of which are gifts brought to us by the Holy Spirit),
although Evangelicals still give paramount importance to justification
by grace through faith.
We agree that what is offered us through
the death and resurrection of Christ is essentially "deliverance,"
viewed both negatively and positively Negatively, it is a rescue
from the power of Satan, sin and death, from guilt, alienation
(estrangement from God), moral corruption, self-centeredness,
existential despair and fear of the future, including death. Positively,
it is a deliverance into the freedom of Christ. This freedom brings
human fulfilment. It is essentially becoming "sons in the
Son" and therefore brothers to each other. The unity of the
disciples of Jesus is a sign both that the Father sent the Son
and that the Kingdom has arrived. Further, the new community expresses
itself in eucharistic worship, in serving the needy (especially
the poor and disenfranchised), in open fellowship with people
of every age, race and culture, and in conscious continuity with
the historic Christ through fidelity to the teaching of his apostles.
Is salvation broader than this? Does it include socio-political
Roman Catholics draw attention to the three
dimensions of evangelization which Evangelii nuntiandi links.
They are the anthropological, in which humanity is seen always
within a concrete situation; the theological, in which the unified
plan of God is seen within both creation and redemption; and the
evangelical, in which the exercise of charity (refusing to ignore
human misery) is seen in the light of the story of the Good Samaritan.
We all agree that the essential meaning of
Christ's salvation is the restoration of the broken relationship
between sinful humanity and a saving God; it cannot therefore
be seen as a temporal or material project, making evangelism unnecessary.
This restoration of humanity is a true "liberation"
from enslaving forces; yet this work has taken on an expanded
and particular meaning in Latin America. Certainly God's plan
of which Scripture speaks includes his reconciliation of human
beings to himself and to one another.
The socio-political consequences of God's
saving action through Christ have been manifest throughout history.
They still are. Specific problems (e.g. slavery, urbanization,
church-state relations, and popular religiosity have to be seen
both in their particular context and in relation to God's overall
plan as revealed in Scripture and experienced in the believing
community through the action of the Spirit.
The Role of Mary in Salvation
Roman Catholics would rather consider the
question of Mary in the context of the Church than of salvation.
They think of her as a sinless woman, since she was both overshadowed
by the Spirit at the Incarnation (Luke 1:35) and baptized with
the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14 f. and 2:1-4). She
thus represents all Christians who have been made alive by the
Spirit, and Roman Catholics speak of her as the "figure"
or "model" of the Church.
The reason why we have retained this section
on Mary within the chapter on "The Gospel of Salvation"
(albeit as an Appendix) is that it is in the context of salvation
that Evangelicals have the greatest difficulty with Marian teaching
and that we discussed her role at ERCDOM II.
The place of Mary in the scheme of salvation
has always been a sensitive issue between Roman Catholics and
Evangelicals. We have tried to face it with integrity.
The interpretation of Scripture
It raises in an acute form the prior question
how we use and interpret the Bible. We are agreed that biblical
exegesis begins with a search for the "literal" sense
of a text, which is what its author meant. We further agree that
some texts also have a "spiritual" meaning, which is
founded on the literal but goes beyond it because it was intended
by the Divine-though not necessarily the human-author (e.g. Is
7:14). This is often called the sensus plenior. The difference
between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals lies in the degree to
which the spiritual sense may be separated from the literal. Both
sides agree that, whenever Scripture is not explicit, there is
need for some check on the extravagances of interpreters. We are
also agreed that this check is supplied by the context, both the
immediate context and the whole of Scripture, which is a unity.
Roman Catholics, however, say that Scripture must be read in the
light of the living, developing tradition of the church, and that
the Church has authority to indicate what the true meaning of
Scripture is. Thus, in relation to Mary, Roman Catholics concede
that devotion to Mary was a post-apostolic practice, but add that
it was a legitimate development, whereas Evangelicals believe
it has been unwarrantably imported into the Roman Catholic interpretation
Mary and Salvation
In one of our ERCDOM II sessions, entitled
"The Place of the Virgin Mary in Salvation and Mission,"
an Evangelical response was made to Pope Paul VI's 1974 Apostolic
Exhortation Marialis cultus ("To Honor Mary"). Evangelical
members of the dialogue asked for an explanation of two expressions
in it which, at least on the surface, appeared to them to ascribe
to Mary an active and participatory role in the work of salvation.
The first (1.5) describes the Christmas season
as a prolonged commemoration of Mary's "divine, virginal
and salvific Motherhood." In what sense, Evangelicals asked,
could Mary's motherhood be called "salvific"? The Roman
Catholics replied that the explanation of the term was to be found
in the text itself, namely that she "brought the Savior into
the world" by her obedient response to God's call.
The second passage (1.15) refers to "the
singular place" that belongs to Mary in Christian worship,
not only as "the holy Mother of God" but as "the
worthy Associate of the Redeemer." In what sense, Evangelicals
asked, could Mary properly be described as the Redeemer's "worthy
Associate"? It did not mean, the Roman Catholics responded,
that she was personally without need of redemption, for on the
contrary she was herself saved through her Son's death. In her
case, however, "salvation" did not signify the forgiveness
of sins, but that, because of her predestination to be the "Mother
of God," she was preserved from original sin ("immaculate
conception") and so from sinning. Positively, she could be
described as the Redeemer's "associate" because of her
unique link with him as his mother. The word should not give offence,
for we too are "associates of the Redeemer" both as
recipients of his redemption and as agents through whose prayers,
example, sacrifice, service, witness and suffering his redemption
is proclaimed to others.
The Evangelicals made a double response to
these explanations. First, they still found the language ambiguous,
and considered this ambiguity particularly unfortunate in the
central area of salvation. Secondly, they felt the whole Roman
Catholic emphasis on Mary's role in salvation exaggerated, for
when the apostles John and Paul unfold the mystery of the Incarnation,
it is to honor Christ the Son not Mary the mother. At the same
time, they readily agreed that in Luke's infancy narrative Mary
is given the unique privilege of being the Savior's mother, and
on that account is addressed as both "highly favored"
and "blessed among women" (1:28-42). If Evangelicals
are to be true to their stance on sola Scriptura, they must therefore
overcome any inhibitions they may have and faithfully expound
Our discussion also focused on the use of
the term "co-operation." For example, it is stated in
Lumen Gentium chapter VIII that Mary is rightly seen as "co-operating
in the work of human salvation through free faith and obedience"
(II, 56), and again that "the unique mediation of the Redeemer
does not exclude but rather gives rise... to a manifold co-operation
which is but a sharing in this unique source" (III, 62).
The Evangelicals agreed that the notion of co-operation with God
is biblical (e.g. "workers together with him" (2 Cor
6:1), but pointed out that this refers to a divine-human partnership
in which our share lies in the proclaiming, and not in any sense
in the procuring, of salvation. The Roman Catholics agreed. The
"co-operation" between Christ and us, they said, does
not mean that we can add anything to Christ or his work, since
he is complete in himself, and his work has been achieved. It
means rather that we share in the benefits of what he has done
(not in the doing of it) and that (by his gift alone, as in the
case of Mary) we offer ourselves to him in gratitude, to spend
our lives in his service, and to be used by him as instruments
of his grace (cf. Gal 1). The Evangelicals were relieved, but
still felt that the use of the word "co-operation" in
this sense was inappropriate.
Another word we considered was "mediatrix,"
the feminine form of "mediator." The Evangelicals reacted
with understandable vehemence against its application to Mary,
as did also some Roman Catholics. She must not be designated thus,
they insisted, since the work of mediation belongs to Christ alone.
In reply, the Roman Catholics were reassuring. Although the word
(or rather its Greek equivalent) was used of Mary from the 5th
century onwards, and although some bishops were pressing at Vatican
II for its inclusion in the text, the Council deliberately avoided
it. It occurs only once, and then only in a list of Mary's traditional
titles. Moreover, in the same section of Lumen gentium (III, 60-62)
Christ is twice called "the one Mediator" in accordance
with 1 Tim 2:5-6, and his "unique mediation" is also
referred to twice, which (it is added) Mary's maternal ministry
. "in no way obscures or diminishes."
The Final Document of the Puebla Conference
of the Evangelization of Latin America (1979), which contains
a long section entitled "Mary, Mother and Model of the Church"
(paras. 282-303), was cited by Evangelical participants. Paragraph
293 declares that Mary "now lives immersed in the mystery
of the Trinity, praising the glory of God and interceding for
human beings." Evangelicals find this a disturbing expression,
and not all Roman Catholics are happy with it, finding it too
ambiguous (if indeed "immersed" is an accurate translation
of the Spanish original immersa: there has been some controversy
about this). Roman Catholics explain that the notion of Mary's
"immersion" in the Trinity means that she is the daughter
of the Father, the mother of the Son, and the temple of the Holy
Spirit (all three expressions being used in paragraph 53 of Lumen
gentium). But they strongly insist that, of course, she cannot
be on a level with the three Persons of the Trinity, let alone
a fourth Person. In addition, they point out that Roman Catholics'
understanding of the role of Mary should be determined by the
whole of chapter VIII of Lumen gentium, and other official statements
of Roman Catholic belief, rather than by popular expressions of
The fears of Evangelicals were to some extent
allayed by these Roman Catholic explanations and assurances. Yet
a certain Evangelical uneasiness remained. First, the traditional
Catholic emphasis on Mary's role in salvation (e.g. as the "New
Eve," the life-giving mother) still seemed to them incompatible
with the much more modest place accorded to her in the New Testament.
Secondly, the vocabulary used in relation to Mary seemed to them
certainly ambiguous and probably misleading. Is it not vitally
important, they asked, especially in the central doctrine of salvation
through Christ alone, to avoid expressions which require elaborate
explanation (however much hallowed by long tradition) and to confine
ourselves to language which in plainly and unequivocally Christ-centered?
At the same time Roman Catholics are troubled
by what seems to them a notable neglect by Evangelicals of the
place given by God to Mary in salvation history and in the life
of the Church.
E.g. Eph 2:1-3;
4:17-19; 2 Cor 4:3-4.
on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes)
Redemptor hominis, Pope John Paul II (London: Catholic
Truth Society, 1979) 14.
on the Church (Lumen gentium), 8.