Appetite for Disruption
When I was Reformed, I constantly heard that the last thing in the world the gospel did was reinforce what natural man already knew to be true, but rather, the gospel comes in to disrupt, to disturb, and to turn man’s instincts on their head. You see, natural man is Pelagian and believes he can work his way to heaven, and the gospel serves to overturn those natural instincts and introduce something utterly counter-intuitive.
Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches that grace perfects nature rather than overturns or destroys it. This is rooted, as are just about all Catholic doctrines, in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The second Person of the Trinity did not assume a human nature in order to get a Mulligan for the first creation so he could enact something altogether contradictory to the natural order. Divinity does not eclipse or swallow up humanity, but it perfects it. Christ was born, lived, suffered, died, was raised, and ascended in human flesh in order to bring humanity into communion with the Godhead. He participated in humanity so that we, by sharing human nature with him, might participate in his divinity.
Now, if someone claims to agree with the above schema — and with grace perfecting nature in general — he should have no problem seeing the gospel message as a reinforcement of and improvement upon what man already instinctively knows to be true, namely, that loving God and loving neighbor is the way to eternal blessedness. What makes the gospel “news” is not that it provides an alternative way of salvation which natural man could have never conceived of, but that it accomplished its aim by turning natural men into supernatural men in order to enable us to sow to the Spirit and thus reap everlasting life. This is just the logic of Trinitarianism: God by his nature is a Father who eternally begets a Son with whom he shares his divine nature. If this is true, then it makes perfect sense for God to father a divine family of adopted children with whom, through the glorified humanity of Christ, he shares his life by means of the sacraments made effectual by the indwelling Spirit.
For the Catholic, the dogmas of the Incarnation and Trinity are not just tools to dust off when Mormons knock at the door only to be shelved after they’ve gone, they are the central tenets of the Christian faith which shape our understanding of the good news of the gospel. For the Protestant, however, his emphasis upon forensic imputation of alien righteousness and suspicion about ontological participation of the human in the divine gives the impression that God is a Judge before he is a Father, and that the Son was just legally declared to be human rather than actually becoming one.
The gospel doesn’t disrupt natural man’s instincts any more than Christ’s divinity disrupted human nature. Instead, the gospel places a big ol’ exclamation point after all true and beautiful things. And that’s what I love most about being a Catholic.