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.
I just can't help but think that somewhere in here the Catholic church committed an error of some sort.
Why, a lot. The Catholic Church believes that there are lines of authority that go from Christ and through His Church and they completely bypass the civil magistrate. If the state passes laws that accord with the Natural Law, we support the state; if it passes laws that don't, we ignore these laws. Specifically, these are the things that are together uniquely Catholic, that are each a bastion against the forces of secularism (from my earlier post on another thread):
With what... the other radical socialist?
I agree with you. We have to work together to defeat the enemy of our souls and his minions (read Democrats). We will certainly be lost as a nation if we don’t. My brother was a Vietnam Vet. Thanks for your service!
I want to iterate a couple of things that you said.
It is true that true ecumenism is only possible inasmuch as people convert to the Catholic Church, the pillar and ground of truth. There is no discrepancy at all between the Church that grows more patristic, teaches her doctrines more forcefully and clearly, and the fact that people who take their Christianity seriously are attracted to it. By the same token, people who do not take their Chrisitanity seriously are repelled (our absolute numbers are shrinking).
Especially it is true in pro-life work and in all corporate works of mercy, the ministry in which Chuck Colson in engaged. Anyone who lives out the Gospel of Jesus Christ will soon discover that no matter what theological theories appeal to his intellect, the Catholic Church of the nameless monks and friars who dedicate their lives to the work of charity appeal to his heart. While I am happy for Colson’s testimony as an Evangelical, I would not be surprised if he followed Randall Terry and Al Kresta across the Tiber one day.
Well, Jaded, I don’t agree with their disagreement. I feel we are all working for the common goal.
which began where... The European continent fell long ago to the scourge of liberalism that is now affecting the Protestant nations. Catholic nations fared no better, and it could be argued, were the genesis thereof.
... of dubious accord with the gospel. American social experiment of fostering the Economic Man at the expense of Catholic Man of divine sonship lasted for little over 200 years and shows all signs of decline, while Southern Europe and Latin America, while of modest economic success, have a simple organic lifestyle that endured over a thousand years.
Despite my polemics on theiological grounds, I always enjoyed the Evangelical Protestant company, with whom we share the love for, and the uncompromising spirit of, the gospel.
That's true in many areas of the U.S.A. It's true here where I live, and where I came from. It's a sad situation when Roman Catholic members don't even attend their Mass on Sundays; here, of the total membership of the local Roman Catholic Church, only around 30% actually attend the Mass on any given Sunday. The other denominations of Christianity at least have over 50% attendance each Sunday of their total members. One church that I know of has over 90% of its members attend services on Sunday and 50% on their Wednesday evening Bible Studies. I doubt that this is true all over the USA, but I see more and more attendance at churches being the norm in the near future. Hopefully this will continue until Jesus returns.
Many of the Catholics around here can hardly be called "Christian", for their actions betray them. It is sad that the leadership of their church doesn't have more influence upon them. I won't go into why I say this, other than to say if the Holy Spirit was working in them, they wouldn't act the way they do. This is also true of many "mainstream" churches. Evangelicals seem to have the upper-hand in their actions, although a small number of them drag down the righteous ones. Enough said....
People reject Catholicism because they are willing to reject parts of the gospel they don’t like. One who reads the gospel as written will soon be either Catholic or Orthodox at heart.
How do they do that?
People reject Catholicism because they disagree with Catholic doctrine and supposed authority, and it would be the height of arrogance to assume that there is no room for dissent, especially when there is so much evidence to the contrary.
Right, and therefore they don't read the gospel as written.
Conversion by the sword, confession by torture, forced baptisms, death of innocents, genocide, religious persecutions, plunder of lands to enrich Rome... all of that was inerrant then?
Right, and therefore they don't read the gospel as written.
Wrong. They disagree with the interpretation thereof. That disagreement is well founded, and legitimate.
Catholics just as much misrepresent Luther and the “Five Solas” as Protestants do Catholic teaching, in my observation. And nothing Scott Hahn has written has in any way undercut the Five Solas. The Five Solas stand just as soundly today as they did five hundred years ago.
But the Catholic interpretation is that of the fathers of the Church, who produced the canon of gospels. Anyone can intepret; only a Catholic can explain.
Perhaps, but then these diverse interpretations also exist in the Protestant world.
nothing Scott Hahn has written has in any way undercut the Five Solas
He sure produced schools of converts who don't believe Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura anymore (we don't disagree on the rest).
It's nice to see someone acknowledge that the "Five Solas" did not exist for the first fifteen centuries of Christianity.
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