Sunday, September 6, 2009

Holy Ground - A Review

I just finished reading an advance reading copy of Holy Ground: Walking With Jesus as a Former Catholic by Chris Castaldo. It is due out from Zondervan this October. What first drew me to the book was the endorsements of D. A. Carson and Francis Beckwith. Carson said it was "the best book" he's read that chronicles the pilgrimage of someone from Catholicism to Evangelicalism and that it "was full of godly commonsense." Beckwith (a recent convert to Catholicism from Evangelicalism) said Castaldo "shows respect for the tradition from which he departed while at the same time not shying away from the doctrinal issues over which Catholics and Protestants are in serious disagreement." When two of my favorite authors, who come from different sides of the issue, can give a thumbs up so to speak on a book it immediately got my attention.

The book is divided into two parts. In the first part Castaldo gives five main reasons why Catholics often leave the church. In the second part he offers advice on how to "naturally and winsomely emulate Jesus among our Catholic loved ones and friends." (13, All page numbers are from the advance reading copy and thus may differ from the final printed edition.) The first part also has two "portrait" chapters. The first one is a portrait of Evangelical faith as embodied in Martin Luther and the second one is a portrait of the Catholic faith as embodied in Ignatius of Loyola and Cardinal Gasparo Contarini. Both of these chapters were fascinating and at times riveting to read. In the chapter on the Catholics we are introduced to three types of Catholics: the ex-Catholic (a la Luther), the traditional Catholic (a la Ignatius) and the Evangelical Catholic (a la Contarini). (89-90) Later in the book he also adds the category of a cultural Catholic or those who would be perceived as "nominally" Catholic or also called "'cafeteria Catholics' who pick and choose elements of religion to suit their taste."(ch 10, 152-153).

During the first half of the book Castaldo discusses issues like sola scriptura vs. nuda scriptura, the papacy, the sacraments and most important of all--salvation. Of all the reasons why Catholics leave the church "the chief reason, hands down, was disagreement with the Catholic way of salvation. When ex-Catholics communicated this idea, they often expressed appreciation for the rich symbolism, historical rootedness, and theological depth of Catholic rituals. At the same time, there was frustration and even resentment that one had spent decades in the Catholic Church without ever having heard a clear explanation of the salvation message. They understood how to obtain a relationship with the Catholic Church, but not with Jesus Christ." (108-109)

Castaldo is sensitive in his discussions without either talking down to Catholics or being argumentative. But he is serious in his disagreements. The chapter that transitions part one to part two is called "How Catholics view Evangelicals" and is a critical chapter. The observations and criticisms are not new but they need to be heard--again. Evangelicals are viewed as holding to salvation as little more than "fire insurance." Furthermore, our relationship with God is too "chummy chummy" and we have a glaring absence of unity. Our faith is also seen as superficial which oftens finds its chief expression on coffee cups and t-shirts.

In chapter 11 Castaldo incorporates the illustration of a traffic light in showing "How to Relate in Catholics with Grace and Truth." This chapter is full of concrete advice and sage counsel. Included is a glossary of words that must be used with caution (Yellow Light) to avoid communication breakdown. (174-177) The book concludes with an appendix on "How the Catholic Church Became What it is: Trent to Vatican II." Also included are discussion questions for each chapter along with suggestions for additional reading.

Castaldo states early on he intends to avoid two common problems often characteristic in books like this: 1. They often exhibit an unkind attitude which, while they may be doctrinally correct, are so full of irritation that they "ring hollow and fail to exhibit the loving character of Christ." (12) 2. They often do not explore the "practical dimensions of personal faith." Castaldo is more concerned with "understanding the common ideas and experiences of real-life people" rather than the bare content of catechisms. (12) On this score Castalod succeeds as he interlaces his book with the stories of real people and their experiences. He also demonstrates a love for Catholics and a desire for them to know the gospel.

Castaldo provides a "taxonomy of evangelical approaches" to Roman Catholics. (164-166) It ranges from the "actively anti-Roman Catholic" to the "Internal Renewal." Castaldo finds himself in the middle described as "Positive Identity Position." The position is described as seeking common ground with the Roman Catholic Church and willing to cooperate in isolated social projects (pro-life and disaster relief) but less inclined to cooperate evangelistically since "they reject both the institution and authority of the Roman Catholic Church as well as certain central doctrines. Less central differences, as perceived by these Evangelicals, tend to be minimized." (165)

I like this book and would be very comfortable recommending it to a Catholic or someone who is in dialogue with a Catholic. After reading this I felt I not only understood Catholics better but I understood myself as an Evangelical better. Seeing yourself through another's eyes is sometimes a good exercise.


Andrew said...

Great review, Louis. Thanks especially for your thoughts at the end about seeing ourselves through other's eyes. Thanks for the wisde words.

Chris said...

Thanks Louis for your thoughtful and generous review. Chris Castaldo