A note: Throughout these posts statements regarding Protestant beliefs will arise. These are not intended to capture every belief system within Protestantism, but should be read with the preface, “For those denominations that believe …” We do not have an exhaustive knowledge of the different positions taken by different Protestants, so if we say something that doesn’t apply to you then it wasn’t intended to apply to you.
Claim 1: Catholicism denies the Gospel
What an unfortunate claim! Certainly, there are disagreements regarding soteriology (the study of salvation) between Catholics and Protestants , but to claim we deny the Gospel should be backed up by copious citations from history and Scripture. Yet, it is lacking.
Actually, we are so deprived that we don’t even have an articulation of the supposedly false Catholic Gospel and the supposedly true Gospel according to Challies. In another article Challies wrote this: “But the essential gospel is right there—that Jesus Christ was put to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and was then raised back to life.”  Not even the most brazen anti-Catholics I’ve encountered would say the Catholic Church denies this statement. They might disagree with Catholic theology regarding atonement, but accuse the Church of denying “that Jesus Christ was put to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and was then back to life?” Don’t think so. His brief articulation above is affirmed every Sunday by Catholics around the world (some even formally affirm it in public worship on a daily basis). No, that can’t be the articulation of the Gospel Challies has in mind when he accuses the Church of denying the Gospel. Which is feasible, since he says this in the same aforementioned paragraph, “Of course the gospel can be as simple as those eight words or as complex as many volumes of theological text.” So, maybe our best bet is to compile his complaints into two Gospel formulas and check them. Here we go!
The closest thing I can gather to Challies’ Gospel is: Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. With only Christ praying on our behalf. This happened and it is done and if you believe it happened then salvation is declared of you permanently. No one has ever or will ever participate in the work of Christ. For we are seed implanted dunghills, covered in snow, but we are saved whether or not the plant grows . For, we do NOTHING in regard to salvation. We know this because the Bible, according to my [Challies] interpretation, tells us and it alone is binding on the believer.
It is strange that all of this alone and only action is coming from the God of absolute transcendent abundance. But, what do I know? I’m a false-gospel Catholic.
How Challies’ portrays the Catholic Gospel: “[The Catholic Church] has a gospel … that damns not saves because it explicitly denies that justification comes (1)by grace alone (3)through faith alone (2)in Christ alone. … (4)To the work of Christ it adds the work of Mary. (5)To the intercession of the Savior it adds the intercession of the saints. (6)To the authority of the Bible it adds the authority of tradition. (7)To the free gift of salvation it adds the necessity of human effort. (8)In place of the finished work of Christ on the cross it demands the ongoing sacrifice of the mass. (9)In place of the permanent imputation of Christ’s righteousness it substitutes the temporary infusion of works righteousness.” It is just a bunch of additions, like barnacles accumulating on the pristine hull of deconstructed, tweet sized Christianity.
Is this true? Has the Catholic Church unnecessarily bogged the Gospel down in garbage? I don’t think so. Rather, this section is shaped by two significant errors. Challies’ claims either misrepresent Catholicism or he treats a natural part of the boat like an intrusive barnacle.
Part of this tendency to confuse the boat for barnacles is the pursuit of the ‘simple’ Gospel. Is the Gospel simple, in the sense of minimalist and reductionist? No. The Incarnation is not simple. The reality that God died is not simple. How this Good News gives hope for those who lived before Christ is not simple. The existence of suffering and evil is not simple. The belief in the inspiration of Scripture is not simple. The Gospel is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Greeks, which hardly sounds simple. Now, one could say it is simple in the sense that my best approach to it is to trust the Lord, but that is my best response because it is so far above my capacity to process. Unfortunately, people aren’t often expressing a simple trust in the face of a complex salvation history. Instead they are seeking a simplicity that is more reminiscent of Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace (Cost of Discipleship, 43-46 ). The Gospel is acceptable by the human mind by faith, but beyond the mastery of human understanding. You can decide if you would call that simple. Anyway, back to Challies’ claims against Catholics.
The litany of perversions Challies presents can’t stand against the testimony of Scripture, history, and logic. Now you can read all of my musings below, or read this essay from Richard A. White written at Trinity Theological Divinity School in 1987. It is titled, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification . It is from a Calvinist who fairly presents Catholic Soteriology. Here is a snippet, “This study has forced me to abandon some false notions I have had for some time now, including my belief that Roman Catholic doctrine and the sola gratia are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the stereotypical picture of Catholicism (among evangelicals) is that of a legalistic system unconcerned with saving faith in Christ. While this may be true sometimes in practice, it has no place in the actual teaching of the Catholic Church” (8-9).
3. See Jimmy Akin’s The Salvation Controversy for a highlight of some of them. While certainly not comprehensive, it is a good introduction to the debate.
5. In my research I discovered that Luther’s “Snow-covered Dunghill” analogy is likely a paraphrased condensing of other thoughts and ideas. It is not wholly inaccurate as an analogy for his soteriology, but unsustainable as a quote. Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong was my source for learning that it is unprovable as a direct quote: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2016/04/luthers-snow-covered-dunghill-myth.html.
6. Opening pages of the Chapter titled “Costly Grace,”