Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic

I had the opportunity last night to hear Chris Castaldo speak at Biola University on his new book Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic. Here is a quick summary from his website:

Drawing from his Roman Catholic background and personal interviews with other former Catholics, Chris Castaldo takes you on a dynamic exploration of the challenges and opportunities encountered by those who become Evangelical. More than historical perspective, theological reflection, and practical lessons, Holy Ground casts a vision for emulating Jesus in relationship to Catholic loved-ones and friends.

Chris spoke for about 45 minutes followed by a 45 minute question and answer session. While the audience contained mostly Protestants there were a number of Catholics present as well. Chris began by emphasizing the need for both grace and truth (John 1:14) as Evangelicals converse with Catholics about agreements and differences. If your conversations with Catholic friends and loved-ones look something like the following, you should probably read this book:

Holy Ground - Teaser from Chris Castaldo on Vimeo.

Chris addressed three main issues while he spoke: What is the fundamental difference between Catholics and Protestants? What are Catholic people like? What are practical ways to approach Catholics?

Beginning with his personal testimony, Chris described his own upbringing in a Roman Catholic household living in New York city. He began experimenting with Transcendental Meditation at a young age before giving his life to Christ and becoming part of a Protestant church. After his conversion, he initially alienated himself from his Catholic loved-ones through poor conversation tactics and an overbearing attitude. However, it was his reflection on these events and his desire to lovingly and intelligently converse with family and friends that would ultimately result in the important insights reflected in his book.

Chris then set out to answer the three questions he began with:

First, what is the fundamental difference between Catholics and Protestants? The answer is one of authority. Is the Bible alone the infallible authority for the church in issues of faith and morals (sola scriptura)? Or, do we need the Bible, plus tradition, plus the Pope, plus the teaching magisterium?

Second, what are Catholic people like? Chris classifies Catholics into 3 profiles: traditional, evangelical, and cultural. These are broad categories with plenty of room for overlap, certainly not meant to be rigid. But it is important to recognize the differences among Catholics as this will affect how you approach them in dialogue, which leads us to the third question.

Third, what are practical ways to approach Catholics? Should we refer to the Bible? Try to make a personal connection? Or treat them as we would an agnostic or non-Christian? The answer depends completely on the individual you are speaking with, which brings up an important point. Evangelicals need to remember that Catholics should be treated as individuals, not as automatons part of a larger Rome-based organization.

Finally, Chris ended by dealing with some assumptions Catholics have regarding the Protestant faith. One of the most important is the issue of "faith alone" (sola fide). For many Catholics the mention of "faith alone" conjures up synonyms such as "cheap grace" or "easy believe-ism." It is important for Protestants to define what they mean by terms such as this if they are going to use them. Faith alone is not a license to sin (Romans 6) but rather a humble acknowledgment that we are declared righteous in God's sight, not by works, but by God's grace through trust in Christ alone.


Overall the evening went very well. Chris was well spoken and very cordial. This is an extremely important topic and I think one of the more difficult issues to address. Chris' book is much needed and will go a long way in moving dialogue forward. Evangelicals and Catholics will profit greatly from reading this book.

Check out Chris' website and blog for more information as well as videos and pick up his book if you have Catholic friends and loved-ones whom you want to converse with about your faith, with grace and truth.


Unknown said...

Well done brother, I'm flattered that you would offer such a thoughtful review. Thanks again for your encouragement and support. -Chris

Aaron said...

Thank you Chris! Glad I was able to hear you speak. Praying the rest of your book tour goes well.

Justin said...

I think I did absolutely everything 100% wrong. My best friend and I were atheists. He converted to Catholicism and in part because of his example, I converted to Protestantism (my then-fiancee was an evangelical). It worked out great until he mentioned he mentioned the homily about John 6 (""I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."). I guess the priest's homily was that if you don't subscribe to transubstantiation you will go to hell.

My friend agreed initially and we fought fought a lot after that and he seemed to back off that claim, but he was never very clear about it. I spent a lot of time going through the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia and I still couldn't come across a clear statement there either. Were some of the exceptions for protestants in Africa who had never been exposed to Catholicism? I still don't know.

I ended out basically breaking off our relationship, which I'm sure isn't Christian, but his position certainly hurt me. Then about a year or two later he and his family converted. We recently went to R.C. Sproul's seminar on reformed theology and he is now a Calvinist, which he used to hate.

Two things that I don't understand and will probably never know until after I die: (1) what did he believe about my salvation, and (2) did I bully him into changing his denomination?

It was the most personally trying experience in my life and I handled it badly at every turn.