Although he might not be well known outside of certain theological
circles, Dr. Hans Boersma is one of the finer young Evangelical
theologians writing today. He is the J.I. Packer Professor of Theology
at Regent College, one of the best Evangelical schools in Canada, and he
is the author of some books that engage deeply and thoughtfully with
Catholic theology, notably Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery (Oxford, 2009), and Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Eerdmans 2011). As his bio on the Regent website states,
Boersma's "main theological interests are Catholic thought, the church
fathers, and spiritual interpretation of Scripture." (And in the words
of a snide Amazon.com reviewer, he is "A Roman Catholic in evangelical
In the September/October 2013 edition of Books & Culture: A Christian Review, in an article titled, "The Real Presence of Hope & Love" (subscription
required for full article), Boersma praises the "Christocentric legacy"
of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and touches on how it should help
fruitful ecumenical conversation between Catholics and Evangelicals. He
notes that far too many discussions of theology begin with premises
about "conversative" and "liberal," which often derail matters before
anything of substance is actually discussed. "With regard to Benedict,"
writes Boersma, "what stands out is not his alleged 'conservatism' but
his focus on Christ in matters both theological and moral. That is what
will render him relevant for many years to come." He then writes:
have long been afraid that Catholics take their starting-point in human
realties. Human merit before God, Mary and the saints as objects of our
adoration, the concrete materiality of Baptism and Eucharistthese, and
other aspects of Catholic theology and spirituality, seem to
Protestants attempts to place ourselves in the position of the risen
Lord, as a move from Christocentrism to anthropocentrism. Oakes'
insistence, therefore, that Ratzinger's theology is marked first and
foremost by its Christocentrism, should make Protestants sit up and
listen. And I think there is a sense in which it should make both
Protestants and Catholics sit up and listen. If, after all,
[Fr. Edward] Oakes is right that Christocentrism lies at the heart of
Ratzinger's thought, then this is the key also to how we can deconstruct
the relativism of our culture that thinks only in terms of the binaries
of "conservative" and "progressive." To place Christ at the center is
to gainsay the need to be "up-to-date" or "relevant." To place Christ at
the center is, therefore, also to stab at the heart of the relativism
that underlies this division between "conservative" and "progressive."
There is good reason, I think, why Ratzinger's most stringent rejection
of relativism comes under the title of Dominus Iesus (2000). It is the
Lord Jesus who sent us on a mission in the world, and it is his Lordship
and the definitive character of his revelation that are " 'the true
lodestar' in history for all humanity," as the document's concluding
paragraph puts it. Evangelicals and Catholics should be drawn together
by this theologicalthat is to say, Christologicalfocus, which is the
real antidote to so much non-theological humbug that typifies most media
interest in Catholic thought and in the Christian faith in general. The
insistence that Christ is the beginning, the center, and the end of
theology has always served as reminder that in terms of theology and
morality there is something more important to worry about than God's
relevance to us, namely, our relevance to God.
Beorsma then focuses on Benedict's first two encyclicalsDeus caritas est (2005) and Spe salvi
(2007)highlighting "Benedict's insistence that the love of God has
become incarnate: 'The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so
much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh
and blood to those conceptsan unprecedented realism.'" Christianity,
Benedict explained (in many other places as well) is not an intellectual
system or even a collection of dogmas, but a transformative encounter
with the living Christ.
Benedict takes "the visibility of God seriously" and asks that we do the
visibility results from the fact that God gives himself to us in Jesus.
The visibility of God's presence in Christ is something Catholics and
evangelicals need to reflect on in dialogue, because it touches on
Catholic sensibilities that evangelicals should perhaps appreciate more
than they usually do. For Pope Benedict, the visibility of God in Christ
immediately implies what he calls a "sacramental 'mysticism.' " The
visibility of God is meaningful for us precisely because we are drawn
into Christ in the Eucharistic celebration.
Beorsma also spends time reflecting on the deeply sacramental core of
Benedict's theological project, and makes this very astute observation:
encyclicals know of sacramental presence. But the first encyclical sees
the real presence of love in the Eucharist, while the second locates it
in the real presence of hope in the narratives of the real lives of
flesh-and-blood people such as Le-Bao-Tinh. He is but one instance of
this real presence of hope. Spe salvi is filled with stories and
examples of this real presence.
The "legacy of Pope Benedict," Beorsma concludes, "is the witness of a
thorough-going Christological focus. This Christocentrism should warm
the heart of evangelical believers, for it is the centrality of Christ
that enables us to overcome the narrow-mindedness of a culture whose
only remaining norms are those of the flattened horizons of this world."
He encourages Evangelicals to really listen to Catholics and consider
carefully the Catholic emphasis on "real presence." He recognizes that
serious disagreements still exist and so he does not appeal to a spirit
of indifferentism, but to a shared belief in Christ, one that is
radically opposed to the "relativism of a flat culture".
It's worth noting, as a postscript, that the prolific Evangelical
Scripture scholar, Dr. Ben Witherington III, has been invited to
participate in the upcoming symposium, "The
Gospels: Historical and Christological Research," held in Rome and
sponsored by the Joseph
Ratzinger Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation. The press release states:
Dr. Witherington is one of only a handful of Protestant scholars who
will be presenting, and the only New Testament scholar in the United
States invited to speak at this prestigious event.
The conference sets out to study in depth the main themes of the
thought of Josepth Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, taking its cue from his
trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth, true man and true God. The three volumes were published during the period 2007-2012 while
Benedict XVI was then the Roman Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Scholars
and professors of different universities and Christian denominations
will be gathered to study, discuss and dialogue in order to enrich the
interpretation of the Gospels and to continue in the passionate search
for the historical Jesus. Witherington states, "The detailed scholarly
study of the historical Jesus has been going on for more than a century
and a half, and it is a significant event when a theologian who has
become a Pope and has now returned to his studies produces three
significant books on the historical Jesus which receive critical acclaim
and close study. This conference builds on that legacy while moving in
new and fresh directions."
At the end of the symposium Pope Francis will be awarding the “Joseph
Ratzinger” prize, in recognition of those who perform promising
scholarly research relating to or expounding upon Benedict XVI’s work.
From what I can glean from online searches, the two other Evangelicals scholars from North America are Dr. Craig Evans (Acadia University) and Dr. Stanley Porter
(President and Dean of McMaster Divinity College), both Canadian, and
both very highly regarded in the field of New Testament studies. The website for the Joseph
Ratzinger Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation is available only in Italian.