Skip to comments.Evangelicals: Change of Heart toward Catholics
Posted on 07/29/2008 4:39:52 PM PDT by annalex
Evangelicals have been going through a major change of heart in their view of Catholicism over the past 15 years or so. In the 80’s when I was in college I lived in the Biblebelt and had plenty of experience with Evangelicals–much of it bad experience. The 80’s was the height of the “Are you saved?” question. In Virginia, the question often popped up in the first 10 minutes of getting to know someone. As I look back, Isurmise that this was coached from the pulpit or Sunday school as it was so well coordinated and almost universally applied. It was a good tactic for putting Catholics on the defensive even before it was known that they were Catholic—”ummmm, uhhh, well no, I’m not sure, I’m Catholic.” Then a conversation about works righteousness or saint statues would ensue. Yeah, nice to meet you, too.
Thankfully, those days are pretty much over. We now have formerly rabid anti-Catholics apologizing and even praising the pope. Catholics and Evangelicals have both learned that we have much in common and need each other to face the secular culture with a solid front. But, where did this detente come from? I think there is a real history to be told here and a book should be written. Let me give my perceptions of 7 major developments since 1993, which I regard as the the watershed year for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States.
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1993. When this document came out, it was uncertain that even Catholics would read it. We should have known that something was up when the French version hit the top of the bestsellers charts in France and stayed there for months. The English version did the same in the US. Catholics were reading the Catechism, forming study groups and challenging errant professors in the classroom.
2. World Youth Day, Denver 1993. Catholic youth and youth ministers woke up. Suddenly, Catholic youth ministers realized that the youth loved the pope. And they loved him all the more because he did not talk down to them or water down the faith. He challenged them. Gone now were the pizza and a video parish youth nights. Furthermore, youth and young adults took up the challenge to evangelize. One of those youth heard the message and started a website, New Advent. Catholic youth were now becoming zealous for the Catholic faith in its fullness and were not going to be swayed by an awkward conversation that began with “Are you saved?”
3. Scott Hahn. While the Catechism is great for expounding the Catholic faith, it is not a work of apologetics itself. It is not written to expose the flaws of Evangelical theology. It is not written to defend the Church against the attacks of Evangelicals per se. It just would not let them get away with misrepresenting the Catholic faith. But Scott Hahn hit the scene at about the same time with Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1993). I first heard his testimony on cassette tape in 1996. It blew my mind. Suddenly, Catholic apologetics, which is as old as the Catholic Church itself, got a leg up and there was an explosion of books, magazines and websites that effectively undercut the arguments of the 5 Solas. For the first time, there was a cadre of Catholics well enough informed to defend their faith.
4. The Internet. The Net started exploding from 1993 to 1996. I had my first account in ‘94. Compuserve was horribly basic, but by ‘96 I had AOL and the religion debates raged instantly. Catholics who had just been given the most powerful weapon in the arsenal in the war against misinterpretation of their teaching were learning to type on a forum while balancing their catechisms on their laps. Of course, online versions came out, as well. But, no Evangelical bent on getting Catholics out of the arms of the Whore of Babylon could expect to do so without himself have a copy of the Catechism, knowing it inside out and pouring over it for the errors and horrors he would surely find. Evangelical apologists were confronted with a coherent and beautiful presentation of the Catholic faith that they were ill equipped to argue against. They learned that Catholics, too, loved Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The Catechism had arrived providentially just before the internet and had turned the tables in just a few short years. With the apologetic movement hitting at the same time, Evangelicals were also confronted with Catholics who could argue from the Bible defending their faith and demonstrating the weaknesses of Evangelical interpretations of scripture.
5. Early Church Fathers. One fruit of the Apologetics movement has been a flowering anew of Catholic interest in Patristics. This is happening at every level from armchair apologists to doctoral studies. It is suddenly all about Patristics, whereas in the 70’s-90’s the academic focus had been on Karl Rahner and Liberation Theology.
6. Evangelical Third World Experience. Evangelicals have had a field day in Latin America among the poor who are not part of the internet conversation and are distant from the study of apologetics. But, Evangelicals have learned from their experiences abroad an essential aspect of the Gospel they were missing: the Works of Mercy. Once haughty with their criticism of “works righteousness,” they have learned one cannot attend to the spiritual needs of the poor without attending to their bodily needs. Catholic have always understood this. Now, the Evangelicals are coming around. I haven’t heard an Evangelical Televangelist speak on works righteousness in many years.
7. Secularism. With the collapse of the Mainline churches as the backbone of American religion over the past thirty years (since about 1975), Catholics and Evangelicals are the only ones left standing in this country to present the Gospel. Secularism is on the rise and is ruthless. Evangelicals are now learning that only Catholicism has the intellectual resources to combat the present secular age. And, with the pope, we have a pretty effective means for communicating the faith and representing it to the world. There is nothing an Evangelical can do that will match the power of one World Youth Day.
With such an array of Providential developments, Evangelicals as well as Catholics have come to appreciate the depth and the breadth of the Catholic faith. It is far more difficult for them to honestly dismiss Catholicism as the work of Satan as once they did without qualm. There have been apologies and there have been calls for a new partnership. Let us hope these developments will bring about a new moment of understanding for the Glory of the Lord.
This is just a good news post. Praise be to God!
On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church
The Great Heresies
SALVATION PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
JUSTIFICATION IN CATHOLIC TEACHING
Hermits and Solitaries [Ecumenical]
THE PRIESTHOOD DEBATE
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND MERIT
A Well-Rounded Pope [Ecumenical]
A Monastery to Last 1,000 Years [Ecumenical]
Explaining Purgatory from a New Testament Perspective [Ecumenical]
In the Crosshairs of the Canon [How We Got The Bible] [Ecumenical]
'An Ordinance Forever' - The Biblical Origins of the Mass [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: Church Authority In Scripture [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: Catholic Tradition: Life in the Spirit [Ecumenical]
Vatican plea to uncover Virgin Mary and show her breast-feeding baby Jesus
Why do Catholics have to confess their sins to a priest instead of praying straight to God? [Ecu]
Our Times: The Age of Martyrs
The Eucharist - the Lord's Sacrifice, Banquet and Presence
Beginning Catholic: Catholic Morality: Life in Christ [Ecumenical]
Chosen In Him: The Catholic Teaching on Predestination [Ecumenical]
The Sacraments [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: A Strong Start in the Faith: The Catholic RCIA Stages [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: The RCIA Inquiry Stage In the Catholic Church [Ecumenical]
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1993”
That’s a great book. I’m an atheist myself but I flip through my mom’s copy pretty regularly.
I also believe that this is why there has been a resurgence in smaller churches and small worship groups.
Bookmark for later reading.
Eh, why a nice man like you be, of all things, an atheist?
Great article. Bookmark.
Beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you so much for posting this. My best friend is an evangelical; I love her dearly. Her love of Christ really made a huge impression on me and helped me to love our Lord on a more personal level. I will always be grateful to her for that.
It saddens me beyond relief to see the hateful bickering that goes on between Catholics and Protestants on this site. I hope one day we will all be united. United, we can be a powerful force against evil in this world which so desperately needs the light of our Divine Savior.
Now if the author of this piece would refrain from taking gratuitous slaps at evangelicals maybe we could get some real work done.
Newman begins by restating his opponents best case against Catholicism ... and his opponent is almost identical theologically to today's evangelicals.
After decimating Catholic belief from the evangelical point of view, he then rebuilds it step-by-step in an intellectual tour de force which takes accounts of all aspects of humanity ... not just the hyper-rational intellectual aspect.
I recommend it to everyone.
The last edition of First Things talked of the Death of Protestant America. The author said it was basically between the Catholics and the Evangelicals.
My fear is that there are not enough orthodox Catholics and to many Rick Warren style Evangelicals to turn this country back from the abyss.
I skimmed it my Brother and I love the way it’s going. Looking forward to the discussion.
This is the best thing I’ve read in months. Bravo. Bravo. Bravissimo!
Thanks for the ping, and for all the valuable links...
Thanks for the recommendation!
Actually, I believe the reason why Catholics and Evangelicals no longer are at odds with each other is simply because they’ve traded in their theology for a socialized gospel message. It is far more important to join forces on abortion or feeding the poor than it is to correctly teach the right understanding of the gospel. There isn’t much difference in the Church/church today than the American Red Cross.
I couldn't agree more, "The Faith of our Fathers" by James Cardinal Gibbons is also excellent and somewhat "easier" reading than Newman's "Apologia."
What, do you think, has changed in the Catholic understanding of the gospel between the Upper Room and the 1993 Catechism?