Testing the Waters of the Tiber? Peter Leithart


“Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.” Peter Leithart
The End of Protestantism by Peter Leithart

Is Peter Leithart drinking water from the Tiber. The refusal of the Presbyterian Church of America to deal with this scholar’s aberrations seems to have emboldened him even more. I might be wrong about that but his recent rant on First Things seems to imply he is attacking the heritage of our Presbyterian distinctions. Our theology was forged in the fire of what the scriptures say about Justification before God. We protested that the Church needed to be Reformed and landed squarely where the “Five Solas” took us in opposition to Roman Catholic Dogma. Maybe Dr. Leithart is forgetting what it was all about.

The “five solas” is a term used to designate five great foundational rallying cries of the Protestant reformers. They are as follows: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory).

These “five solas” were developed in response to specific perversions of the truth that were taught by the corrupt Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church taught that the foundation for faith and practice was a combination of the scriptures, sacred tradition, and the teachings of the magisterium and the pope; but the Reformers said, “No, our foundation is sola scriptura”. The Catholic Church taught that we are saved through a combination of God’s grace, the merits that we accumulate through penance and good works, and the superfluity of merits that the saints before us accumulated; the reformers responded, “sola gratia”. The Catholic Church taught that we are justified by faith and the works that we produce, which the righteousness that God infuses in us through faith brings about. The reformers responded, “No, we are justified by faith alone, which lays hold of the alien righteousness of Christ that God freely credits to the account of those who believe”. The Catholic Church taught that we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and that we approach God through Christ, the saints, and Mary, who all pray and intercede for us. The Reformers responded, “No, we are saved by the merits of Christ Alone, and we come to God through Christ Alone”. The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.”

Today, the Catholic Church teaches the same essential perversions of truth; and much of Protestantism has seen a regress to many of the same corruptions, in many circles and denominations. It is a pressing need for Christians everywhere to reaffirm and champion anew the “five solas” which underlay and gave impetus to the Protestant Reformation.

Some of what he notes might be true about the state of the Church today.

Mainline churches are nearly bereft of “Protestants.” If you want to spot one these days, your best bet is to visit the local Baptist or Bible church, though you can find plenty of Protestants among conservative Presbyterians too.

But it seems he has changed the focus and forgotten the focus of the Protestant Reformation.

He also makes some sweeping accusations that I find to be out of touch from the Protestants I know.

A Protestant exaggerates his distance from Roman Catholicism on every point of theology and practice, and is skeptical of Roman Catholics who say that they believe in salvation by grace.

This is just simply not true. Maybe this is Peter Leithart being hyperbolic but it certainly does not represent the Protestants I know and it may even be that he is violating the 9th commandment here by making this such an absolute statement.

Maybe he has been drinking water from the Tibris and is thinking of swimming partially to the other side. Either way, something seems very amiss here and I believe things have been for along time. The Presbyterian Church of America needs to deal with the aberrations this man has been putting forth. They have consistently been covering this guys tracks. The time is past for discipline. The pursuit of peace and purity has been overly compromised. Now they are going to have bigger problems since they refused to act properly in the first place. Peter Leithart seems to be emboldened to trash the heritage he claims to have roots with.

I wonder how Gary Demar and Joel McDurmon are going to try to spin this one.