“We have free-floating guilt, can identify the Ave Maria within thre notes, and likely have rosary beads somewhere in the attic. We also own at least one study Bible, listen to sermons in the car, and know that a ‘quiet time’ is different from a nap. We are followers of Christ who grew up Roman Catholic and are now Evangelical Protestants.”
That’s how Chris Castaldo begins his helpful, irenic, and humorous book, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic. Chris was raised in an Italian, Roman Catholic family on Long Island, eventually graduated from Moody and Gordon-Conwell, and now serves as Pastor of Outreach and Church Planting at College Church in Wheaton. Talk about quite a journey. All roads lead to Wheaton I suppose.
Chris (I’m going to call him Chris since I’ve know him since seminary days) has written an extremely useful and needed book. Let’s be clear: this is not a book on what Catholics believe (though there is some of that); it’s not a polemic about why evangelicals are right and Catholics are wrong (though there’s no doubt who Chris thinks is right); it’s not a book about whether Evangelicals and Catholics Together has been a good idea (though that would be interesting). This is a book for ex-Catholics and for anyone with Catholic friends and family. It’s a look at why Catholics turn evangelicals and how Catholics-turned-evangelical can relate to the Catholics in their lives.
In Part 1, Chris explains–through surveys, interviews, and theological reflection–why some Catholics become evangelical. First, ex-Catholics appreciate an every-member ministry where all Christians are called to full-time service. Second, ex-Catholics are drawn to a personal relationship with Jesus that is more than just rule-keeping. Third, ex-Catholic evangelicals enjoy the direct access they have to God through Christ, without the need of any other intermediary. Fourth, ex-Catholics have come to see that only proper object of our devotion is Jesus Christ, not Mary or the saints. Fifth, ex-Catholic feel new freedom and joy in the salvation-by-grace-alone-through-faith-alone gospel that is championed in evangelical circles.
Underlying all of these differences between Catholics and evangelicals, Chris argues, is the issue of authority. Is Scripture our final authority or should we also put councils and encyclicals on equal footing with the Bible? With the possible exception of justification, there is no other issue that does more to separate Catholics and evangelicals more than this issue of authority.
In Part 2, Chris turns from analysis to praxis as he offers advice on how we can relate to Catholics. Because Chris can speak with an insider’s knowledge, I found it especially interesting to read his chapter on how Catholics view evangelicals. He explains that Catholics often think we are superficial, too chummy with God, hopelessly splintered, and only interested in “fire insurance.” In my experience all of these can be valid critiques of evangelicals, especially the first two. (I think “fire insurance” is pretty important, and I don’t for one minute think the Roman Catholic church is any less splintered over doctrinal and ethical issues than the Protestant church. The Catholics have more institutional unity on the face of it, but they have just as much dissension inside, not too mention plenty of people that flat-out ignore what the institution says.)
If I have a quibble with Holy Ground it would be that in one or two places I found myself wanting Chris to be just a little less accommodating and do just a little more to show how far apart Catholics and evangelicals are on some issues. But this does not detract from the overall value of the work. I have already recommended it to ex-Catholics and will again. The best part about this book is that it handles a controversial subject in way that manages to be both light and serious at the same time. This book is funny, smart, well-written, and full of grace and truth, with a healthy dose of common sense to boot. There really isn’t another book quite like it.
Holy Ground is the sort of book ex-Catholics will love to read and the sort of book they wouldn’t be embarrased to give to a Catholic friend. Chris is always respectful about his past, even as explains why he had to leave it. Many people will see their journey in this book. The rest of us will be helped to listen in on the story.