Dr. Michael Barber had a not-so-typical college experience.
As a practicing Catholic from the cradle, he made the unique decision to attend a prominent non-Catholic Christian university over a nearby Catholic one. Why would he do a thing like that?
“My spiritual director said, ‘You know, Michael, you’ve been so involved in apologetics that you have come to see non-Catholic Christians as separated brethren; you need to see that they’re separated brethren. And I’d really encourage you to go to Azusa Pacific University.’ I thought about it long and hard, and he had some good advice,” said Barber, who spoke at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s July 24-26 Applied Biblical Studies Conference.
Barber, now a professor at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, California, recalled many positive experiences during his undergrad, including service projects with his non-Catholic classmates, rigorous debates, and many experiences of seeing the faith in a new light. One such example he offered was a full overview of the supposed “faith versus works” debate between many Catholics and Protestants.
“Salvation is a process. And the Catholic Church understands this. That really to embrace the biblical version of salvation means you can’t simply reduce salvation to one moment,” said Barber. He explained:
“Most of the time when Christians think of salvation, they speak of it as a past event: ‘I got saved.’ But it’s really important to recognize that in sacred scripture, salvation is something that takes place in the past, but it’s not simply a past event. Romans 8:24 says ‘for in this hope we were saved,’ – past tense. But salvation also pertains to the present. And in 1 Corinthians 1:18, we read ‘those of us who are being saved.’ So salvation is something that occurs in the present. And there’s also the future dimension of salvation: if any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, 1 Corinthians tells us, though he himself will be saved. So salvation is something in the future.”
He pointed out that our Protestant brothers and sisters are not the only ones who misunderstand this aspect of Catholic theology; numerous Catholics are confused on this topic as well.
“I think there are many Catholics today, who, like Martin Luther, misunderstand the Catholic teaching. They think that God is an authoritarian father figure, who’s up in heaven waiting to be impressed by us,” said Barber. “But God wants us to be saved more than we could ever want to be saved. We don’t have to do anything to get God to love us; we don’t have to do anything to win him over.
“Once we have initially received the gift of salvation, grace is so powerful that by God’s grace our works become meritorious,” he said.