Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a former Catholic by Chris Castaldo

Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a former Catholic,
 by Chris Castaldo, Zondervan, 2009, 236pp

Here Chris Castaldo tells the story of how he left the Roman Catholic Church on becoming an Evangelical Christian. Sometimes converts to Evangelicalism from Rome have a touch of "hot-prot" zealotry about them. They are more than eager to denounce the errors of the church to which they once belonged. Not so Castaldo. Yes, he is clear on the gospel-defining issues that distinguish Roman Catholicism from authentic biblical Christianity, but he is not out to trounce Rome in a fit of conversionist passion. Rather, his aim is to help Evangelicals to gain a better understanding of Roman Catholicism so that we may be more gracious  and effective witnesses to Roman  Catholic friends and family members.

The writer gives five reasons why he converted from Rome to Evangelicalism, a full time faith, a personal relationship with Jesus, direct access to God, Christ-centred devotion and motivation by grace instead of guilt. Along the way he gives a portrait of Martin Luther's Evangelical faith and depicts the Catholic faith of Ignatius of Loyola and Gasparo Contarini.

Castaldo does not reject wholesale the Western Catholic tradition. He warns against a nuda Scripture approach which has little time for the theological heritage of the Church. The Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura confesses the supreme authority of the Bible, but the Reformers valued the teachings of the Church Fathers and accepted the ancient creedal formulae as important expressions of biblical truth.

A chapter is devoted to how Catholics view Evangelicals, which makes interesting reading. The writer also offers an analysis of different types of Catholic; traditional, evangelical and cultural and suggests how Evangelicals might best relate to people who belong to these sub-groups with grace and truth.

Castaldo gives a taxonomy of  Evangelical attitudes towards Rome, from the actively anti-Roman Catholic to the ecumenical. He aligns himself with the "positive identity" group, which, so he says is open about Evangelical distinctives while avoiding open criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. Such Evangelicals might act as co-belligerents with Roman Catholics on pro-life issues, but they hesitate to co-operate in evangelism and mission because they reject the institution and authority of the Roman Church and certain central doctrines. I don't see how criticism of Roman teachings can be avoided if we are to speak the truth in love, but Castaldo is right to warn against an overly belligerent "pit bull" approach when witnessing to Roman Catholic people.

The book is well written in an easy, anecdotal style, the writer often drawing on his own experience in talking to Roman Catholics about the gospel. He gives lots of practical advice on pitfalls to avoid when speaking to Roman Catholic friends and family members. On occasion Castaldo's irenic concern to be "nice" to Roman Catholics means that he pulls his punches and in places he could have been a little more robust in warning of the dangers of Rome. (See his qualified commendation of C. S. Lewis' words of congratulation to a convert to Rome on p. 180).

The final chapter, Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever, is a moving and insightful meditation on the transfiguration of Jesus. One day we will see the glorified face of Jesus. Castaldo asks, "Can those who watch our lives, Roman Catholic or otherwise, observe in us the substance of this belief?" (p. 197).

 A useful appendix on How the Roman Catholic Church Became What it is: Trent to Vatican II concludes the book.

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