(From Outside the Camp Vol. 1, No. 4)
"To be sure, fundamentalists within our three traditions are unlikely to join us in this, for it is the way of fundamentalists to follow the path of contentious orthodoxism, as if the mercy of God in Christ automatically rests on the persons who are notionally correct and is just as automatically withheld from those who fall short of notional correctness on any point of substance. But this concept of, in effect, justification, not by works but by words -- words, that is, of notional soundness and precision -- is near to being a cultic heresy in its own right and need not detain us further, however much we may regret the fact that some in all our traditions are bogged down in it."
Do these words not sound like the "tolerant Calvinists" who would condemn those who say that Arminians are not saved? After all, they say, the Arminians merely "fall short of notional correctness," and to say that they are not born again is just "contentious orthodoxism" and "justification by words of notional soundness and precision" that "is near to being a cultic heresy." These words are, in fact, not from a Calvinist regarding the salvation of Arminians, but from a Calvinist regarding the salvation of those in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches! And that Calvinist is none other than James I. Packer (p. 174 of Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics & Orthodox in Dialogue, edited by James S. Cutsinger, printed by InterVarsity Press, 1997), who has asserted for a long time (even while writing the introductions to Owen's The Death of Death and Luther's The Bondage of the Will) that Arminians are within the bounds of true Christianity. You who would count Arminians as your brothers take note -- it is a very small step from saying that Arminians are saved to saying that Roman Catholics are saved. If you believe that it doesn't matter what one believes and that knowledge of soteriological doctrines are not essential fruits of salvation, then you have just welcomed Roman Catholicism into your fellowship. Can you hear it now: "Roman Catholics just have the concept of justification mixed up a little, but they still believe in Christ." "After all, it isn't your knowledge or orthodoxy that saves you." "A Roman Catholic is just ignorant of the doctrines of salvation, which are merely the finer points of doctrine." And on and on they go.
Below are some excerpts of J.I. Packer's article in Christianity Today (12/12/94) entitled "Why I Signed It," an explanation of why he signed the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" document (which could easily be a tolerant Calvinist's reasons why he would sign a "Calvinists and Arminians Together" document). Those Calvinists who would call Arminians their brothers would do well to see their view taken to its logical conclusion. Packer, in stating that "What brings salvation, after all, is not any theory about faith in Christ [or] justification ... but faith itself in Christ himself," uses the same argument I have heard many times by those who fellowship with Arminians. The question is: What is "faith itself in Christ himself"? It is believing that my salvation is based solely on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ and conditioned on nothing in me. Is this a doctrine that must be believed? It most certainly is. Roman Catholics do not believe it. Arminians do not believe it. Thus they show themselves to be unsaved. And tolerant Calvinists like J.I. Packer also show themselves to be unsaved, because they do not consider the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ to be an essential gospel doctrine, let alone the very heart of the gospel.
Here is Packer:
"Hitherto, isolationism everywhere in everything has been the preferred policy of both Catholics and evangelicals, and a good deal of duplication and rivalry, fed by mutual suspicion and inflammatory talk, has resulted. ... So I ought to have anticipated that some Protestants would say bleak, skewed, fearful, and fear-driven things about this document -- for instance, that it betrays the Reformation; that it barters the gospel for a social agenda ... Why, then, should any Protestant, such as myself, want to maximize mission activity in partnership with Roman Catholics? Traditionally, Protestants and Catholics have kept their distance, treating each other as inferiors; each community has seen the other as out to deny precious elements in its own faith and practice, and so has given the other a wide berth. There are sound reasons why this historic stance should be adjusted. First: Do we recognize that good evangelical Protestants and good Roman Catholics -- good, I mean, in terms of their own church's stated ideal of spiritual life -- are Christians together? We ought to recognize this, for it is true. I am a Protestant who thanks God for the wisdom, backbone, maturity of mind and conscience, and above all, love for my Lord Jesus Christ that I often see among Catholics ... Though Protestant and Catholic church systems stand opposed, and bad -- that is, unconverted -- Catholics and Protestants are problems on both sides of the Reformation divide, good Protestants and Catholics are, and know themselves to be, united in the one body of Christ, joint-heirs not only with him but with each other. ... Such a coalition [to combat 'disintegrative theology'] already exists among evangelicals, sustained by parachurch organizations, seminaries, media, mission programs and agencies, and literature of various kinds. It would be stronger in its stand for truth if it were in closer step with the parallel Catholic coalition that has recently begun to grow. ... their domestic differences about salvation and the church should not hinder them from joint action in seeking to re-Christianize the North American milieu. ... Propagating the basic faith, then, remains the crucial task, and it is natural to think it will best be done as a combined operation. ... Billy Graham's cooperative evangelism, in which all the churches in an area, of whatever stripe, are invited to share, is well established on today's Christian scene. And so are charismatic get-togethers, some of them one-off, some of them regular, and some of them huge, where the distinction between Protestant and Catholic vanishes in a Christ-centered unity of experience. ... What brings salvation, after all, is not any theory about faith in Christ, justification, and the church, but faith itself in Christ himself. ... What is ruled out is associating salvation or spiritual health with churchly identity, as if a Roman Catholic cannot be saved without becoming a Protestant or vice versa, and on this basis putting people under pressure to change churches."