Evangelicals & Catholics on Holy Ground: 4 Questions for Chris Castaldo
Chris Castaldo (Pastor of Outreach and Church Planting at the College Church in Wheaton, IL) has recently written a book entitled Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic (Zondervan, 2009).
In the book, Chris takes readers on a dynamic exploration of the challenges and opportunities encountered by Roman Catholics who become Evangelical. Holy Ground also casts a vision for how evangelicals can emulate Jesus in relationship to Catholic loved-ones and friends. Here are some questions I had for Chris after reading his book.
Trevin Wax: In the beginning of the book, you define “evangelical” in terms of the Lausanne Covenant. Later on, in your division of Roman Catholics into categories (traditional, evangelical, cultural), you use the term “evangelical” as an adjective for a type of Catholic. Are these different ways of using “evangelical” compatible?
Chris Castaldo: Essentially, although I would like to offer one caveat.
The Lausanne Covenant elucidates the gospel in point four under the heading The Nature of Evangelism saying:
“To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating fruits of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”
As far as this statement goes, Catholics say “amen.” This is so because Catholics and Protestants virtually agree on the “objective” dimensions of the gospel (that Jesus died, rose, and now reigns).
Where we differ is on how these redemptive realities are applied to humanity. Does it come through the sacraments of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, as Rome asserts? Or is it supremely revealed in Scripture and accessed by faith alone, as Protestants believe?
Since the Lausanne statement doesn’t specify how the gospel is applied (whether it comes through the sacraments or through faith alone), it is essentially consistent with the Evangelical Catholic view.
However, I happen to agree with the Reformed tradition which asserts that our definition of the gospel should reach beyond the objective content of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and reign to also define the gracious nature of its application (that it is accessed by faith alone). As I state on page 144 of Holy Ground,
“This widely used category of ‘Evangelical Catholic’ remains problematic in that it often doesn’t include a commitment to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is central to Evangelical belief and identity. Nevertheless, the category of ‘Evangelical Catholic’ continues to be used in a sociological sense by Catholics and Protestants alike.”
This is the point at which our compatibility breaks down.
Trevin Wax: It seems that most evangelicals believe the defining difference between Catholics and Protestants is on the doctrine of justification. You believe that the difference is in authority. Why is sola Scriptura the primary doctrine that divides us?
Chris Castaldo: At the risk of sounding scholastic, I find it helpful to think in terms of the Protestant Reformers’ distinction between the formal and material causes of the Reformation (sola Scriptura, the formal, giving rise to sola fide, the material).
It’s not that one is more important than the other; rather, it’s a matter of which is fundamental. In an epistemological pecking order, sola Scriptura is the starting point, setting the trajectory for our position on justification by faith alone.
The practical benefit of understanding this distinction is realized in theological conversation with Catholics. We can argue (in the best sense of that word) about justification by faith alone until the cows come home, but if we never consider the sources of authority with which we’re operating, the fact that we’re singing from different sheets of music — the Catholic sheet including Tradition and magisterium as infallible forms of revelation — means we’re unlikely to ever enjoy fruitful discussion.
Stepping backward a few paces to behold the big picture, broad enough to include the doctrines of revelation, Christology, and ecclesiology, inevitably sheds light on our understanding of salvation.
Trevin Wax: You mention some of the reasons that Catholics convert to evangelical faith, including a desire to be motivated by grace rather than guilt, or have a relationship with Christ rather than a rules-based understanding of religion. Aren’t there cases in evangelical circles where we make the same mistakes (emphasize guilt, rules, etc.)? If so, does this necessarily mean that Catholicism is invalidated by some of the mistaken practices of its adherents?
Chris Castaldo: We Protestants are certainly just as guilty of legalism. We all know fundamentalist Protestants for whom law keeping is their way of salvation. In Holy Ground I make the assertion that for every finger we point at Catholics we have one or more pointing back at us.
The correlation between Protestant and Catholic types also applies to the taxonomy. Each of the three categories of Catholics which I posit in the book (traditional, evangelical, and cultural) apply to Protestant churches as easily as they do Catholic ones.
To the last part of your question, however, I think there is a difference between Catholic and Protestant teaching at this point.
While Protestant pastors and laypeople make the mistake of using guilt as a motivation, when they do so it is a departure from biblical teaching, an inconsistent move that takes its cues from religion instead of the Bible. For Catholicism, motivation by guilt is a natural outworking of what the Catholic Church officially teaches in her catechism and elsewhere. Sacraments like reconciliation involving penance, precepts like holy days of obligation (think of the wording “obligation”), and doctrines like purgatory, all feed the same guilt impulse. It’s what my colleague Josh Moody calls “salvation on probation.”
Thus, for Catholics, guilt is not simply an incident, it’s a form of psychosis, one that eventually shapes how you view God, self, and salvation.
Trevin Wax: What can evangelicals learn from their conversations with Catholic friends and families?
Chris Castaldo: The way you phrase this question is exactly right. What can we learn? In your question is an assumption that we can and should learn. I think your assumption is right for two basic reasons.
First, it’s sophomoric at best to think that we have nothing to learn from other Christian traditions. When I was a student at Gordon-Conwell, for instance, I took classes at other divinity schools in the Boston area. I studied Eastern Orthodoxy at Holy Cross and Roman Catholicism at Harvard Divinity School. Catholic classmates taught me profound lessons about reverence for God, prayer, bio ethics, cultural engagement, and social justice. These are the same lessons we can learn from our Catholic friends and family.
Did I agree with everything I heard from my Catholic classmates? Certainly not! Yet, those experiences broadened my perspective in ways that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
You say, “Well, my cousin Vito, the primary interlocutor in my Catholic family, isn’t exactly the Harvard Div. type. But that brings me to the second reason why we must take the posture of a humble listener. It’s essentially the law of reciprocity.
If you and I ever hope to communicate what we believe about the gospel of grace, we must first establish trust and credibility, currency that comes by listening before we talk. This approach, characterized by genuine interest and concern, will enrich relationships, and therefore promote fruitful conversation about the greatness of Jesus, the One who died, rose, and now lives, and alone deserves the glory.