This past Saturday I had a conversation with Dr. Gregg Quiggle of Moody Bible Institute on the question of whether “Evangelical Catholic” is an oxymoron.
Of course, I argued that all Catholics should be Evangelicals, because we should be evangelizing the good news of Jesus Christ to all people. Along the way we discussed my time as a Baptist, the communion of saints, Vatican II, justification, interpreting the Bible, and many other topics.
We had a few callers to the show, including one who surprisingly turned out to be a Catholic-turned-Protestant minister-turned-Catholic again.
Also the host, Julie Roys, did a great intro piece where she interviewed several Catholics involved in evangelical outreaches (NET ministries was one), and she had a nice outro with her own thoughts on the subject where she mentions that she knows Catholics who love Jesus (win!).
Near the end, Dr. Quiggle brought up Martin Luther’s famous words about standing by what he thinks the Bible teaches. “Popes and councils have erred in the past. Unless I’m convinced by Scripture and reason, here I stand. And that’s what it means to be a Protestant.”
I gave a final rejoinder that the individual Protestant is the ultimate interpretive authority, and that under Protestantism, not only popes and councils are error-prone, but all people and churches and denominations are, so who are we supposed to follow? Who teaches the truth of God without error?
I am. I am the greatest obstacle to ecumenical progress.
I’m taking a line from G.K. Chesterton, in a story attributed to him that goes like this: a newspaper sent out a question to many famous authors, including Chesterton: “What’s wrong with the world today?”
Chesterton sent a two word reply: “I am.”
His point is well-taken: we are human beings who often act selfishly, rudely, without charity or kindness. We sin; we fall short of the glory of God; we fail to listen to the Holy Spirit.
A week or so ago I released a short video promoting my book and criticizing in a flippant way a book by James White. The message I wanted to communicate was that my book got to the heart of the issues while his did not. But the video just came across as dismissive, and in addition the arguments I chose to make were not particularly well thought out. Sure, I could defend them, but they weren’t ones that were very helpful in shining light on the differences between Protestants and Catholics.
Someone sent it to White, which was fine with me, and White responded as one would expect when one’s book was dismissed so cavalierly. White got up in arms about it and soon his friends and followers were jumping in to comment, argue, and in cases ridicule.
I thought it was quite enjoyable, a fun little fracas that got people talking. But as the week went on, I began to be saddened by the vitriol and low level of actual engagement with the root issues that are the most important ones to discuss. In short, I had started a fire, and it was putting out lots of heat, but not much light.
Further, I read something this week about certain writers in the public eye using their rhetorical skills to goad their opponents, in essence tempting their opponents to evil. I think it was more in the realm of politics, but is it right to poke someone who you know will likely respond in an extreme way.
It does no good to their souls, nor any good to yours, for we are not to lead people to sin and evil, but to virtue and holiness. By mid-week I felt that I had failed at that, and I regretted it.
I also thought, following Christ’s words, that I would not have liked it had someone made a video dismissing my book so carelessly.
So I am here to ask White and his friends, as well as my own readers, to forgive me for doing this. It was glib and uncharitable, and I am sorry for it.
Late in the week I chose to remove the video and sent a tweet to White informing him that I had done so after reflecting on the lack of respect shown in it.
A Tale of Two Debates
Weeks and months ago, I had agreed to be on two Protestant forums to have a debate or dialogue with Protestants on various issues that divide us.
I have known similar forums to be hostile places for Catholics, so during planning for the debates I informed them that my criterion for participation was that the discussions have an irenic tone.
I was not interested in have a combative debate where each side was trying to “get” the other side, sniping back and forth in a way where each person is thinking much more about being able to prove their position right and make the other person look bad. I have watched debates like that, and while they make good entertainment, and occasionally something can be gleaned from the yelling, usually it is just bunch of heat getting generated that obscures the core issues.
These two debates were occurring back-to-back near the end of this past week. The first one was with a Ph.D. Protestant professor who also had multiple masters degrees in philosophy and theology. I knew that discussion would involve probing questions on specific ecumenical councils, the role of the papacy in them, the question of the validity of the papacy itself, Luther and the canon of Scripture, and the theological question of what the essential unity of the Church is.
I have a full-time job as a software developer, and most of the rest of the time I am taking care of my children and spending time with family. So I was using what time I had to prepare for this first debate. The second one, on Moody Radio, I thought would be more informal and easier going.
About mid-week, I was informed by Moody Radio that the guests they had wanted to be on the show had fallen through. It seems then that they saw the brouhaha with me and James White, and they invited him to be on the show.
I then heard from them that he was going to be the other guest on the show, and I told them that I would have to discern whether I wanted to participate in it. I reminded them that the one thing I requested was an irenic discussion, and that I doubted it would happen with him, especially given the events of the week, with sniping going back and forth over the video I made and our respective books.
They told me that they really wanted to have my perspective on the show, and they decided to see if they could find another guest. They did so, and Dr. Gregg Quiggle was selected by them to be the Protestant interlocutor. He also has a Ph.D. of course and multiple masters degrees in relevant fields.
Challenges Accepted, and Avoided
White must have been informed of the change in guests, and so he sent out various tweets and what-not at me about not wanting to participate on the show with him. His followers piled on calling me names.
I’m a computer programmer and lay apologist, with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. And I was willing to take on on two Protestant professors back-to-back with a combined total of eight times the number of degrees that I have, men whose professional work for decades has been the study of theology and philosophy. Yet people were calling me cowardly. If that’s cowardly then I’m not sure what brave would be.
In any event, I’m willing to take on such challenges, but already the forums were Protestant, the hosts were Protestant, the guests were Protestant scholars. If we were to add a Protestant guest who had reason to be angry at me and probably act polemically, it would be perpetuating the lack of civility and respect that I shared in the blame in starting earlier in the week. I was tired of that.
I completed both debates, which I would really call conversations or dialogues, as they were not formal debates, nor am I interested in formal debates. They went okay I think. I pray they will glorify God and help us answer Christ’s prayer in John 17 to be united as one.
The benefit here is that he can take all the time he needs and carefully write out his answer so that everyone can read it. No polemics or heat, just an answer to a simple but difficult question. If then others want to engage him in dialogue there, again in a calmly reasoned way, I know the Called to Communion guys would be more than happy to accommodate that and ensure that all interlocutors acted respectfully.
I do hope that White will consider this invitation, and that his followers will encourage him to do so, that they may benefit as well from reading his answer there and seeing the discussion.
I may or may not participate in such a discussion, depending on whether my voice was needed. My goal is not to put myself forward with it, but to have an answer from a very smart Protestant apologist to this central question. I also have no wish to debate White, or any other Protestant for that matter.
That said, I was encouraged that the two dialogues I did in the past day were irenic and illuminating to both Catholics and Protestants. And more than that, I have valued the discussions borne of friendship with my Protestant friends and family. That is where the real progress is made, in relationships of mutual good will and love.
I am happy to have people comment on this post, but if you resort to name calling your comment will be deleted. Let’s shine some light as Christ wants us to.
I received this great question via email recently:
I have a friend from one of those non-denominational Bible churches that put on a combination Praise & Worship concert/Bible study service every Sunday (I don’t say that mockingly; that’s just the most concise picture I can paint of her faith background). I am a born and raised Roman Catholic. At some point during our conversation the topic of God and our respective faiths came up. To save time I won’t get into the finer details of the discussion, but needless to say her faith is in error on a great many matters. But I just can’t bring myself to be all that concerned.
I guess the big thing is that, if I had to take a guess, I would say the ultimate destination of her soul is heaven. Yeah, she believes some things that our Church says are erroneous, and yes, she thinks the Catholic Church is wrong, but she was raised in that environment. She is still a passionate Christian who loves God. And (correct me if I am wrong), we as Catholics don’t believe that unless you are a Catholic during this life you are condemned to hell. So what’s the point? If we all (can) end up in the same place, why should I bother to try and help others see the fullness of Truth?
Are there circles of heaven? Tiered plains for the different types of Christians? Is there more joy awaiting Catholics than non-Catholics? If so I could see some urgency in evangelizing non-Catholic Christians. But even if that was the case, it’s heaven: you’re not going to be aware of anything lacking; you won’t be jealous of those that have more joy than you.
I’m just finding it hard at this point to do anything other than shrug my shoulders and say, “Whatever; you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”
Great question! Here are the four reasons you should evangelize Protestant friends and family with the fullness of the truth:
1. Future Souls
I have a Protestant friend who had two children then got sterilized. He and I had lots of discussions about the Catholic Faith and Protestantism. I told him at one point contraception and sterilization were sinful. He got angry.
But he also began to desire having more children. He was something of a providentialist and said that “God will miraculously give us children if He wants to, in spite of the sterilization.” I told him to get it reversed.
A year or two later he decided to reverse the sterilization. A short while later they conceived again and had a son. Then conceived again and had a daughter. So they have two older children and two little children! Sharing the fullness of truth in the Catholic Faith resulted in two new souls being created by God, destined for eternity with Him. Almost all Protestants embrace contraception and sterilization, which is really sad and not what God wants.
Note that this friend is still Protestant. He didn’t become Catholic, at least not yet. I hope he does, but I am thrilled that they opened up their marriage to God blessing them with more children.
2. The Sacraments
Protestants have baptism and marriage but not any other sacraments. God instituted seven, including the Eucharist, so that we could receive Him body and blood, soul and divinity, as well as Confirmation to be strengthened fully in the Spirit, and Confession to reconcile us to Himself and His Church. They are missing out on these.
They also miss out on consecrated virginity for the sake of the Kingdom, which Jesus in Matthew 19 spoke of and Paul did in 1 Corinthians 7. God wants His children to consider all vocations, not just marriage.
Through the sacraments we receive God’s grace in abundance.
3. Bigger Cups!
It is true that everyone in Heaven will be filled to the brim with God’s love, but some people will have bigger cups than others. Here on earth we can, with the help of His grace, become holier and holier, more and more like Him, so that our cups are enlarged. In the Catholic Faith these opportunities abound; we have the fullness of the means of sanctification.
Protestants want to become just like Jesus. They want the biggest cup possible. But they are operating outside of the ordinary means of increasing their cup’s volume.
4. Danger of Hell
It is true that God is not bound by His sacraments and can save anyone He likes. It is also true that Protestants have valid baptisms (by and large) and so receive the Holy Spirit and are regenerated, being born again, from above, to newness of life. However, it is also true that they are relying on God to work in an extra-ordinary way. He set out the way He wanted us to assure our salvation by giving us His Church, with rightful leaders, sacraments, Tradition, and protection from error of her doctrines.
Protestants eschew all those things and so in a sense test God to save them in spite of it. He is so merciful that He can and no doubt will, but Protestants are following the Faith on their own terms, not the way that God planned it.
What happens when a Protestant, after being baptized, commits a mortal sin? Their soul is in peril, and they cannot avail themselves of Confession. They have to confess directly to God and hope that they have perfect contrition to be forgiven. They are essentially gambling with their souls, though most don’t know it (invincible ignorance).
For all these reasons you should help your friend consider the Catholic Faith!