Monday, September 14, 2009

Can you be Catholic and Evangelical?

You know how I've been talking a lot about Catholicism, particularly through the eyes of Protestants that converted to Catholicism? Well, it all really started a few years back when the Francis Beckwith, the current president of the Evangelical Theological Society (THE evangelical group on theology), returned to the Catholic church, claiming that he remained an evangelical and believed that he could be a Catholic and an evangelical at once. It rocked the evangelical world, and since then I've been keenly interested in the entire topic.

Well, last week Francis Beckwith (who is now a professor at Baylor) debated Timothy George at Wheaton University on the topic of whether someone can be an evangelical and a Catholic at once. It's found here, and Christianity Today wrote about it here. The following is from the CT article about the debate:

As George and Beckwith fielded audience questions, authority emerged as another key point of ongoing tension. George reminisced about late-night debates with the late Father Richard John Neuhaus in his New York apartment. George said Neuhaus told him, "You Protestant evangelicals want to talk about orthodoxy, but you have orthodoxy on the cheap. You want the Trinity and Christology, but you don't want the pope and the Magisterium." George responded, "The problem is that you Roman Catholics have orthodoxy with a surcharge. You're adding too much to it." He defended Protestant evangelicalism as the best way to be catholic, that is, in succession with the New Testament and the church of the apostles. As much as he reveres the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI as the two best popes since the Reformation, George does not view them as vicars of Christ on the earth or successors to Peter.

This difference came into even sharper focus when Beckwith described how he came to trust church authority in two controversial dogmas. The Roman Catholic Church made belief in Mary's immaculate conception binding in 1854, and followed in 1950 by teaching her bodily assumption. He compared these difficult doctrines to God's order for the Jews to kill every Canaanite man, woman, and child.

"You don't throw away the Bible if you can't understand everything," Beckwith said. "Once I understood apostolic succession and the authority of the Magisterium, a lot followed."

When asked to define the gospel, however, Beckwith and George found common ground once more. Beckwith deferred to George, who recited Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 from memory. "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."

I really don't mind the veneration of Mary, because as I understand it, veneration is different than worship, which is due only to God. However, I do NOT understand the doctrine of a sinless, perpetual virgin who ascended to heaven. I don't understand why the Catholic church passed these things SO late in the game... seems sort of anti-tradition...

There's several other things I do not understand as well, and the difficulty in discussing them with Catholics is that ultimately it just comes back around to authority. For them, ultimately it doesn't have to have a reason or make sense, if the Church has declared it to be true officially, then that is the end of it.

From the outside looking in, I simply don't know how to deal with that.


Togenberg said...

I don't understand the Marian veneration even when contrasted with the Roman Catholic veneration of other saints (esp as embodied in immaculate conception and corporeal assumption). There's something huge that I am missing here.

"He compared these difficult doctrines to God's order for the Jews to kill every Canaanite man, woman, and child." Woa. an odd comparison! I guess both involve mystery and ignorance on our part? But *that* passage? He assumes that all Evangelicals accept a sacred genocide, as good and true? At least for me as this is, assuming assuming a high view of scripture (say the S.B.C.'s, more-or-less literal reading of a scripture that is without error), a *large* stumbling block. Killing children? sheep? and burning the lot? this makes some kind of sense? .

Well, it needn't be a stumbling block, but then I can't be a proper Baptist.

Anyways, interesting rhetorically that he'd assume his audience would accept his comparison point. Honestly the only Evangelicals (of course a sloppy term) I know who don't fudge the conquest narrative or simply ignore it (while not denying it) are very hard core, people who adhere to a so-called doctrine of second degree separation, etc.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand your lack of understanding, because I used to be there. I am a convert to the Catholic Church myself. I was born and raised Lutheran, then through the high school, college and years beyond I became a non-denominational Christian. I would have never thought I would have become Catholic, and then it happened. I felt so alone in my faith. I kept praying for spiritual role models - people who went before me to show me the way. I knew I was missing something, but didn't know what! God lead me to a book in my non-demonination church library titled, "How to Hear God's Voice" and that started my path to really giving up my expectations and just listening to him. Now I am a huge fan of Thomas Keating's work on contemplative meditation - he is an author that crosses all forms of Christianity.
Once I could really hear God speaking to me on a daily basis, once I had a relationship with God that included speaking and Listening, that is when I really understood how our God is a LIVING God. He is actively living through us with the Holy Spirit. He did with the apostles after Jesus ascended to Heaven, and he does with us today. Holy people are those people who have given up their attachments to the world, to their future, to societies voice for the age and have accepted the heart of what God is, LOVE. There are holy people today living in our world of all denominations, yes, even Catholic. There are hearing God's voice speak to them and they are being obedient to what they are being asked to do. They are spending time in prayer morning and night, quiet prayer where they spend more time listening and less time talking. They are praying as they work too and are striving towards a union with Christ (Thomas Keatings words).
I know I am going on a tangent. My point for this is that it has been 2000 years since Jesus ascended to heaven, but for 2000 years he has been speaking to and through those who love Him. Think of the New Testament, only for chapters, the gospels, are when Jesus were alive, the rest is the work of the Holy Spirit, first through divine living and then through the inspired word. Don't you think that the Holy Spirit spoke through people after the Bible was written too???
So, isn't it possible that 2000 years of the Holy Spirit communicating God's love for people could add some clarity to different issues or aspects of the Bible.
I want to share with you a principle that I learned from a book by Scott Hahn titled "Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God" (a great resource about Mary doctrine). Scientific laws are to theories as theological dogmas are to divinely revealed mysteries. "Dogma is the perfection of doctrine, and doctrine is the gospel truth." (You can add to this quote 'as spoken through the Holy Spirit').
God obviously has you on a path, and that path may include Catholicism or it may not. Either way, you can still be in conversation with God and actively in Love with Him. That is what we are here for - is it not? However, if he is calling you to the church, are you open to it?? Are you able to set aside all your attachments to your beliefs and really listen to what he is asking you?
God's blessings be with you and your readers!!!

Kacie said...

Here is the thing - I have grown up in the evangelical world - I know its faults. However, I have also grown into a faith that guides my life. Here I have been taught to know GOd. Here I have been taught to seek Him daily in prayer, in Scripture, through community. Here I have been taught to reach into my community and love others the way I have been loved. My parents were missionaries, and living among a missions community was truly an amazing thing most of the time, except in the moments when you came face to face with hypocrisy.

My faith and my God is the center of my life and my husband's life. The journey I have been on recently is moving from dismissing the Catholic church to understanding it. However, there's a number of things I still do not understand, and that's why I've continued to post on that subject. :)

That Married Couple said...

I am absolutely no expert in any of this, but I'll throw in my two cents anyway :)

I love reading what you have to say, Kacie, because you're intelligent and open-minded enough to get things, like the difference between worship and veneration! As for Mary, I too have struggled with the doctrine surrounding her. It made absolutely no difference to my faith whether or not she was a virgin all her life, whether or not she was conceived without sin (which just sounded ridiculous, as Jesus is the only sinless human), and whether or not she was assumed into heaven. That was not going to change how I lived my faith out day to day. When I was in the process of becoming Catholic, though, everything else started making sense, and I accepted the authority of the Church. So then, as you pointed out, though I couldn't see any reason behind it or make sense of it, I decided to just take Mary on faith. I realized I had a lot more reading to do before I would be able to understand it, and it wasn't all going to get done before Easter :)

That sounds bad, huh? But I didn't just let it drop there - I have been trying to learn more and truly come to understand the Marian dogmas. I actually just recently finished the book your second commenter mentioned, "Hail, Holy Queen" by Scott Hahn. He really does a good job of showing how there is so much in the Bible that points towards Mary, besides just her role in the Gospels. (You personally might want a bit more in-depth theological treatise, but this would be a good start.) I now feel much more comfortable with the teachings about Mary, and actually feel like I know the reason behind it, and it does in fact make sense.

Okay, one last thing, as I have given you a nickel's worth by now! You mention you don't understand why they make this stuff official so late in the game. Again, that comes back to the fact that the Catholic Church will not make an official statement about something until it's really being questioned. And then she will basically restate what everyone's believed on it from the beginning. For example, Hahn notes that, "Documentary evidence of the assumption stretches back to the fourth century. By the end of the sixth century, the doctrine and feast day were already universally established in the Church. There is no evidence that the teaching was seriously challenged or disputed during the period of the Fathers; nor did any church or city ever claim to own the relics of the Blessed Virgin. That, in itself, it quite remarkable." (108) So it's not that the Church just decided in 1950 that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul - it was that by then things had come to a head, and the Pope really had to state/reassert unambiguously what the Church believed.

Okay, I know that had nothing to do with the evangelical part - sorry! :)

CM said...

To address the title of the post, I don't know if you can be Catholic and Evangelical at the same time. Depends on what you mean by "evangelical." I was reading a book about Evangelicalism by and Evangelical, and he flat out admitted that there was no real definition of it, so I guess it depends on what you mean by it.

As to the questions about Mary, that is one of the areas that I am continuing to learn more about. To me, they are consistent with the Church's teachings. They make sense in the light of the idea of Mary as the new Eve, and as the new Ark of the Covenant (imagery used by a lot of the early Church fathers), but I'm still not at a point where I have a good enough grasp to try to be able to explain it well to someone else.

The late date doesn't bother me because, as Married Couple pointed out, it's not that the Church makes up new teachings out of nowhere. They just define things more clearly as questions arise.

Lauren said...

While I was raised in a Charismatic Protestant Church, I went to Catholic High School. I was privileged to learn much by that experience about a faith I had been taught was "evil and against God". There was even a time I briefly considered joining. However, there are doctrines, including the Mary ideas, I cannot accept. The idea of That Married Couple, to take “on faith” even if one does not understand it, is a sound idea in general. I do that in my faith regularly. However, it is not a lack of understanding, it is a belief the idea are wrong (presumptuous of me, I know). I’d be a liar, a disrespectful and a dishonorable person to profess, as one must when one converts, to believing these things, even on faith, when I disagree. Hence, I remain a Protestant.
I add I know several devout Catholics. Their faith challenges me and I respect their life and beliefs, because I see they love God with all their heart. I consider them my “brothers and sisters in Christ” – even if we disagree of certain things. We all agree to love God is the greatest commandment and that supersedes disagreements on doctrine to me.

Kacie said...

Yeah, you're right, evangelicalism has no defined borders or leadership, it's sort of a broad description of a huge movement in the US. To say you are "evangelical" says absolutely nothing about what church you belong to, it just says a lot about what you actually believe.

Lauren makes a great point, though (thanks Lauren). I can understand (and do so myself within my own church), not having a full understanding or not completely agreeing on certain points. It's just that there are some things that I just flat out disagree with - that I think contradict scripture.

So, because of that - I remain a Protestant.

However, I do believe that on the essense of Orthodoxy - as outlined in the Nicene Creed - we are all in agreement, and I rest in that!

That Married Couple said...

Just to add one more bit, I don't think it's really good to accept on faith something that you do completely disagree with. I was okay with the Mary stuff because I decided it didn't really matter to me one way or the other which was true - so I might as well take the Church's word on it.

An example of something that I knew was a deal-breaker was the Church's stance on contraception. That was one thing I couldn't just agree with because someone said so (probably because it affected my daily life) - of course those celibate old men were completely wrong on this one. I knew there was absolutely no way that I could become Catholic and continue taking the pill - it was one or the other. I knew I couldn't confess that I was on the pill without intending to stop. And I did not want to stop!

However, once I started studying and praying about it, I was amazed at how right they were! I was so impressed with what I was reading that I shared with my husband (a cradle Catholic) that we had to stop using contraception and start using NFP, even though it was terrible timing. And that was what really opened me up to accepting the authority of the Church - because if they were right on this one thing, which everybody else mocked them for, then what else were they right about? What else had I just not taken the time and effort and prayer to understand?

And now I'll step off my soapbox :) I really appreciate how charitable this discussion has been! Yay for loving all of our brothers and sisters in Christ!

Kacie said...

yeah, the contraception thing is interesting! I actually have a deep respect for the Catholic position because it is logically consistant. I began reading and studying it all during the elections and have grown very frustrated with evangelicals. If life begins at conception, than hormonal birth control is wrong. Full stop. Hardly anyone says that.

So either you have a different definition of the beginning of life, or to be consistent you should really practice NFP!