Castaldo face low megs I first met Rev. Chris Castaldo about eleven years ago, just before he headed off to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He was connected to a church in the area where I had ministered quite often. He instantly endeared himself to me for his warmth and graciousness. For six years Chris has served on the staff of College Church in Wheaton. Over the years since we first met we have become really true friends. I count Chris as one of the finest and brightest young ministers I know. He is an able preacher, teacher and now a first-time author. His first book, which will surely not be his last I pray, is Holy Ground, published last month by Zondervan. Chris is doing a "blog tour" this week. I wanted to participate in the fun. To this end Chris responded to several questions about his book for today's blog.

1. Why did you write Holy Ground?

My former pastor and colleague, Kent Hughes, deserves credit for planting the idea to write Holy Ground. During my second year of ministry at College Church, I counseled several couples—one member a Catholic and the other a Protestant—helping them see that, despite doctrinal differences, their marriages could remain intact. With these folks in mind I eventually offered a Wednesday night class on the topic entitled “Perspective on Catholicism,” intended to bring a more biblically informed balance. With John 1:14 as our model, the class sought to emphasize the need to follow after Jesus’ example of “grace and truth.” The material eventually became a manuscript and, thanks to Zondervan, Holy Ground was born.

2. What are the distinct features of Holy Ground that separate it from other such books?

Among evangelical books that address Catholicism, Holy Ground has a couple of features that make it unique. First, many such books convey an unkind attitude (notwithstanding your books on the topic and a handful of others). The doctrinal emphasis of these works is commendable, but the irritable tone rings hollow and fails to exhibit the loving character of Jesus. It's the tone that my seminary professor warned against when he said, "Don't preach and write as though you have just swallowed embalming fluid. As Christ imparts redemptive life, so should his followers." This life is communicated in the content of God's message and also in its manner of presentation. Therefore, I seek to express genuine courtesy toward Catholics, even in disagreement.

Second, most books on Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism emphasize doctrinal tenets without exploring the practical dimensions of personal faith. Important as it is to understand doctrine, the reality is there's often a vast difference between the content of catechisms and the beliefs of folks who fill our pews. Holy Ground is concerned with understanding the common ideas and experiences of real-life people.

Holy Ground Cover

3. In your book you describe different kinds of Catholics. What are they, and why is this information important for gospel outreach?

Holy Ground posits three types of Catholics one is likely to meet in America today: the Traditional, the Evangelical, and the Cultural. These terms are imperfect. For instance, “Evangelical Catholic” is problematic since Catholics deny the doctrine of faith alone. However, these are the words that seem to be most commonly used. In a nutshell, the “Traditional” is the Vatican I variety, “Evangelical” is Vatican II, and “Cultural” is the nominal or cafeteria Catholic. Each profile is defined by the particular form of religious authority on which one builds his or her faith. Connecting the dots between these people and their primary form of authority is critical for properly contextualizing the gospel message.

4. What should be the centerpiece of Catholic/Protestant dialogue?

When talking with Catholics, there are myriads of potential rabbit trails. We may enter into a conversation to talk about how Jesus provides life with meaning and suddenly find ourselves enmeshed in a debate about the apocrypha or Humanae Vitae. Sometimes it’s right to broach these subjects; but too often we do so at the expense of the gospel. This is tragic. What does it profit a person if he explicates a host of theological conundrums without focusing attention upon the death and resurrection of Jesus? This, I would contend, is the “centerpiece”—considering, celebrating, and bearing witness to the splendor and majesty of our Savior, the one who died, rose, and now lives.

Chris is not an anti-Catholic. In fact his biggest critics are likely to be people on the far ends of both the Catholic and evangelical spectrum of believers. I have prayed for some years that an evangelical, former-Catholic would write a book like Holy Ground. It is not a pejorative book, but one that invites serious reflection about serious matters that Catholics and Protestants agree and disagree about. I urge readers of mine from both sides of the Protestant-Catholic divide to read this fine book. You can order it from all the normal sources for new books.

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  1. Chris Criminger November 14, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Hi John,
    Thanks for presenting people who try to build bridges rather than simply keep up old walls.
    I believe there are many Catholics and Protestants around the world practicing radical ways of expressing Christian unity, even eucharist unity that even challenges their current ecclesial hierarchies.
    It seems historically grass roots movements are usually way ahead of large hierarchies (even though these are also places where Popes and Bishops and denominational leaders often practice Christian unity in ways that goes against the norm within their respective ecclesial traditions as well).
    One of these forerunners who practiced practical and eucharist unity among Catholics and Protestants was the late Herni Nouwen. Another international group that does the same are Emmaus communities and the list could go on and on between those that are led by Protestants, those led by Catholics, and some led by both together.
    I know it’s a fine line between those who are radical enough to step outside their ecclesial boxes (even challenge them to reform) while at the same time upholding the ancient orthodoxy of the great patristic era.
    May God’s wind of the Spirit blow again on churches in every place to rise up an army united together by the One who is riding a white horse who is the Alpha and Omega.

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