What We Believe
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Talking with Catholics about the Gospel: A Guide for Evangelicals, by Chris Castaldo.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015, 192 pages, $16.99, paper.

Two Roman Catholic churches are located within three miles of where my congregation assembles for worship. Many of my sheep frequently encounter Catholics in the community, and others have Catholic family members or neighbors. Often I am asked for resources designed to help people gain a better grasp of contemporary Catholicism so they might know how to dialogue and evangelize intelligently. A little over a year ago, I was unaware of anything suitable for the task. The few resources that were initially promising missed the essence of post-Vatican II Catholicism. They failed to grasp the contours of contemporary Catholicism—often treating Catholicism as a monolithic whole rather than the variegated community it has become.

That all changed with the publication of Gregg Allison’s Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Crossway, 2014), followed soon after by Chris Castaldo’s Talking with Catholics about the Gospel: A Guide for Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2015). Although these books are similar, I encourage you to read both of them. Rather than being competitors, they serve as excellent complements that may be used in tandem to help our understanding of and outreach to Catholics. I suggest reading the introductions to both books, and then proceeding to read the remainder of Castaldo’s volume before turning to Allison’s.

Chris Castaldo serves as lead pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. Raised an Italian Catholic in Long Island, his personal history helps him understand Catholics better than most do. His theological research combined with his ongoing ministry to Catholics affords him great depth in reflecting upon Catholic theology and developing strategies for interacting with Catholics.

In Talking with Catholics about the Gospel, Castaldo aims to speak the truth in love to Catholics, successfully proclaiming Christ while avoiding unnecessary strife. He emphasizes an approach of grace and truth (John 1:14), looking to the ministry of our incarnate Lord, who “responded with the utmost charity and discernment, refusing to allow a humanly engineered wedge to separate these virtues” (13). This important lesson underscores our understanding of gospel truth and the appropriate manner of communicating it. While we may assent to this idea at the conceptual level, it nonetheless may prove difficult to know what specific form these interactions might take. Castaldo helps us immensely with practical examples and helpful suggestions based on years of first-hand experience.

In his chapter “Understanding Catholics,” Castaldo demonstrates a sensitivity to the diversity of Catholicism by offering a helpful taxonomy of different types of Catholics in America: traditional, evangelical, and cultural. This is the book’s unique value and the author’s greatest service to evangelical readers. Castaldo offers strategies for speaking with and reaching each type.

Toward the end of the book Castaldo addresses the top ten questions about Catholicism. In this section he treats several theological issues including common misconceptions of the Mass and the relationship of the Protestant doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone to official Catholic teaching. He also addresses several important practical questions, such as whether Protestants and Catholics should marry and how evangelicals may be more welcoming of Catholics and former Catholics in worship.

Many of these sections are organized and formatted for quick perusal, which allows the book to be used as a handbook or field guide. Readers may return to applicable sections in times of need. Even so, the book is not reducible to such use. Castaldo provides a developed explanation of contemporary Catholicism, not merely a list of talking points.

Readers will benefit from chapters that treat Catholic history since the sixteenth century and the similarities and differences between Catholics and Protestants. In order to encourage fruitful conversations, we must understand how we have arrived at our present context. Catholic and Protestant relations have a storied history. Rehearsing this history will help us to affirm our shared concerns and beliefs, while also acknowledging our profound differences. This is requisite to the development of strong relationships through which the gospel may be embodied and more effectively proclaimed.

Our churches will be served well by reading Talking with Catholics about the Gospel, especially if they act upon it. Castaldo is not concerned merely with transmitting information. He desires for us to put our newly gained knowledge to use for the sake of the kingdom. We must develop the relationships that communicate the grace and truth of our Savior, who is the cornerstone and head of his body, the church.

Camden Bucey is pastor of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Grayslake, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, October 2015.

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Ordained Servant: October 2015

The Marrow

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