"Mere Christianity"

Professor James Hitchcock

On the Historic Christian Faith

I don't think there is any position that today would bring in all people who call themselves Christians because I think that, broadly speaking, what we call liberal Christianity has given up most of the historical teachings of Christianity, except for a few vague ethical principles. So there's no point that would bring them into the picture. But if we take Christians who wish to remain faithful to Christian tradition I would say that the idea that we have a fallen nature, that we have sinned, therefore we need redemption, that Christ came to redeem, as the Son of God, that He did redeem us through His death on the cross, that He rose again from the dead, triumphant over sin and death, and that He offers to us the same promise of resurrection and eternal life if we believe in Him, that, while we are saved primarily through our faith in Christ and acceptance of His promises, this also involves an attempt to live His life also as best we can, so that it involves a certain type of moral doctrine. Broadly speaking, of course, it means: love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, love your neighbor as yourself. As Christians see particular moral teachings under attack, if they are authentic Christians, they will realize "This is a place where I must take a stand." This is why, I think, abortion becomes very important, not because the doctrine pertaining to abortion is central to Christianity in the same way that the divinity of Christ is central but that, once it has been assaulted, sensitive Christians have to realize there is something essential here.

What I've been saying implies belief in divine revelation. By that I mean that God really has revealed Himself to man. He has done this primarily through the Scriptures. This the Word of God; it doesn't just represent human beings searching for truth which does represent the Word of God. Ultimately, we have to have doctrinal statements. And, I would hope, the Nicean Creed perhaps and the Apostles' Creed would be a basis for common belief. I know there are Christians in some traditions who do not put a lot of stock in doctrinal formulas, what you might call low church traditions, the Baptists, etc. But, in a sophisticated age we are constantly being asked: "What is it exactly you believe?" and "What does it mean that you believe?" So simply to say that we believe in Jesus or we believe in the Resurrection is often not enough. You're going to have to be more precise. That's why I think doctrinal statements like the Apostles' Creed or the Nicean Creed are essential. I would think that even the very low church traditions could subscribe to those creeds if they understand them adequately. There's nothing contrary to what they believe.

On "Mere Christians" Working Together

I think there may be a series of what you might call concentric circles. The outer circle, maybe because it's the one that's most obvious and creates the least problems of understanding, is just practical moral and social issues. Abortion, again, is an excellent example. The whole abortion issue has done more to bring Catholics and Evangelicals together than just about anything else. We don't need to even address the question of beliefs on something like that: we can even cooperate with an atheist if we recognize that there is a moral evil. However, I think that people who are alert recognize that abortion is a symptom: it's not an isolated thing that just happened to pop up: it's a symptom of deep-rooted secularization, a deep-rooted attack on basic Christian principles. So, therefore, Catholics and Evangelicals then have to go on to the next concentric circle which is, what is our common core of ethical beliefs, why do we think abortion is wrong? What do we think of other related moral issues which keep coming up? Of course contraception is a sensitive one. I find that some Evangelicals, at least, are becoming more open on the question of contraception: maybe there's something to the Catholic condemnation. In any case, we will have to arrive at a common ethical understanding because we're going to continue to be confronted with all sorts of issues. When we recognize that our beliefs are under assault in the moral area we also begin to realize how they are assaulted, either directly or indirectly, in very fundamental things as well. I think that Evangelicals and Catholics both recognize the devastating effects of liberalism within their own denominations. So they will come together again to affirm the basic truths I was talking about before, namely the divinity of Christ, the Resurrection, the need for Redemption, the reality of sin, the reality of divine revelation. These will sometimes be understood in different ways, but I do think there is a common core. All of this so far has been, in a sense, negative because it has risen from a response to an attack or a crisis. I think what is going to come out of this eventually, maybe it has already begun, is to penetrate to the next circle, which would be an exploration of what we believe but without necessarily the urgency of a cause or an attack which must be repulsed. There hasn't been a lot of this so far, but there has been some. This is going to be, obviously, the most knotty part. I'm not talking about a denominational reunion. A certain amount of unity of belief and a certain amount of unity of worship. I don't think there is any reason we can't participate in prayer services. There's certainly no reason we can't pray together. In my opinion the ecumenical movement is just beginning because the real ecumenical movement is going to be along these lines and not along the lines of liberals dialoging with liberals.

On Lutheran-Catholic Dialogs on Faith and Works

I think that it's probably true that if it is properly understood there is no necessary conflict between the Lutheran doctrine of faith and the Catholic doctrine of works. There was a great deal of misunderstanding. In my opinion the crucial issue in the 16th century was not that; rather the crucial issue in the 16th century was the Church itself and parts of the Church: the Papacy, the Episcopacy, the Sacraments, the Mass. That's where the real breach occurred and not really the doctrine of faith and works.