As I mentioned previously, I am participating in a blog tour for the book, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic, written by Chris Castaldo, one of the pastors at College Church in Wheaton, IL. Chris is well prepared to write such a book since he grew up Catholic but is now an evangelical. (Some of the questions I asked Chris were similar to the questions of others so there is some overlap with some other stops on the blog tour).
Here are four questions with Chris’ answers:
1.) Why did you write Holy Ground?
My former pastor and colleague, Kent Hughes, deserves credit for planting the idea to write Holy Ground. During my second year of ministry at College Church, I counseled several couples—one member a Catholic and the other a Protestant—helping them see that, despite doctrinal differences, their marriages could remain intact. With these folks in mind I eventually offered a Wednesday night class on the topic entitled “Perspective on Catholicism,” intended to bring a more biblically informed balance. With John 1:14 as our model, the class sought to emphasize the need to follow after Jesus’ example of “grace and truth.” The material eventually became a manuscript and, thanks to Zondervan, Holy Ground was born.
2.) What are the distinct features of Holy Ground that separate it from other such books?
Among evangelical books that address Catholicism, Holy Ground has a couple of features that make it unique. First, many such books convey an unkind attitude. The doctrinal emphasis of these works is commendable, but the irritable tone rings hollow and fails to exhibit the loving character of Jesus. It's the tone that my seminary professor warned against when he said, "Don't preach and write as though you have just swallowed embalming fluid. As Christ imparts redemptive life, so should his followers." This life is communicated in the content of God's message and also in its manner of presentation. Therefore, I seek to express genuine courtesy toward Catholics, even in disagreement.
Second, most books on Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism emphasize doctrinal tenets without exploring the practical dimensions of personal faith. Important as it is to understand doctrine, the reality is there's often a vast difference between the content of catechisms and the beliefs of folks who fill our pews. Holy Ground is concerned with understanding the common ideas and experiences of real-life people.
3.) What do you miss most from the Roman Catholic tradition?
Great question! No one has asked me this yet. Of all the elements of which Catholic tradition consists, I’d say the one I miss most is the reverent ethos of the Mass. Even here at College Church where we work hard to emphasize transcendent realities, it’s rare that we focus on the cross with quite the same intensity that I remember from my boyhood parish. Granted, there are aspects of the Mass that are doctrinally and existentially troubling, seriously so; but the atmosphere of solemnity, organically woven into the overall worship service (and not simply tacked on to an otherwise regular sermon), unafraid of protracted moments of quietness, perhaps kneeling, concentrating on the crucified Savior with all our God-given senses, is something I’d like to see us more carefully incorporate into our services.
4.) What can a Roman Catholic learn from an evangelical?
I don’t mean to sound cheeky, but I think most of all we can help Catholics to understand the Gospel—the message of divine grace in Jesus’ death and resurrection accessed through faith apart from one’s meritorious behavior. This may sound terribly condescending and perhaps even anti-Catholic, but, to a large extent, it is the reality of the situation. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes the problem:
“There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27).
This is the concern of Holy Ground—that the grace of God in salvation remains central. When talking with Catholics, there are myriads of potential rabbit trails. We may enter into a conversation to talk about how Jesus provides life with meaning and suddenly find ourselves enmeshed in a debate about the apocrypha or Humanae Vitae. Sometimes it’s right to broach these subjects, but too often we do so at the expense of the gospel. This is tragic. What does it profit a person if he explicates a host of theological conundrums without focusing attention upon the death and resurrection of Jesus? In all of our discussion with Catholics we must consider, celebrate, and bear witness to the splendor and majesty of our Savior, the one who died, rose, and now lives.