Catholic/Protestant Debate: Passing the Test

You probably think I’m describing Thursday night’s dialogue with Frank Beckwith and Timothy George. Actually, it happened today, almost a week later.

This morning I awoke with tightness in my chest, near the heart. After phoning my doc, he exhorted me to drive immediately to the emergency room. Grabbing a couple of books, I canceled all of my meetings and headed out. Within minutes of arriving, blood was drawn, EKG tabs affixed, and chest x-rays taken. The debate, however, came several hours later during the stress test.

Abbey, the nurse, was a pint-size woman who looked like a Filipino version of Mother Teresa, and her colleague, the sonogram technician, was a larger lady from Europe who happened to be Lutheran; we’ll call her Olga. After they connected my wires, put the jelly on my now partially shaved chest, and listened to my corny joke about discovering the gender of the child, I started running on the treadmill. A couple of minutes into my jog it came out that I have just written a book on the topic of Catholics and Protestants. Olga immediately asked me why I converted. Now breathing rather heavily, I did my best to explain. Then it happened. With a vitriolic tone Olga expressed her disagreement with the need for a sacramental priesthood, and did it in such a way that was less than flattering of Catholic clergy. Abbey quickly retorted. By this time the treadmill is so inclined that I was forced to hold on tightly lest I fall backwards, my legs hardly keeping pace, and my lungs so rapidly pumping air that I couldn’t think, much less speak. But, I’m supposed to be the expert right? So I do my best to settle 500 years of religious conflict before I collapse. Abbey and Olga then realized I had reached my target heart rate and the debate ended.

I passed the test. The doctor gave me a clean bill of health and suggested that my chest pain was likely a combination of stress and spicy marinara sauce. Now as I head into the upcoming months of book publicity, teaching, preaching, etc., I can’t imagine encountering a more “stressful” occasion of educating Catholics and Protestants. And, if I do, I’ll be sure to tell you about it.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. I’m amazed with all that debating going on around you, you didn’t flunk the stress test. That must mean you’re really healthy.

  2. Chris,

    I’m awaiting the release of your book, Holy Ground. With the landscape covered with books that detail the movement of Evangelical Protestants to Catholicism, I’ve been looking for a book detaling the movement in the opposite direction. You may cover it in the book, but I’m most interested in how you deal with the teachings of the Church Fathers. They clearly speak of Christianity as being sacramental in nature and I have not found any historical works that would indicate that there were anti-sacramental Christaians that were not clearly heretics. Meaning that history does not show us historical evidence of the existence of non-sacramental Trinitarian Christians, ie Modern Evangelicals, that is prior to the sixteenth century. It is because of this that I struggle with the concept that non-sacramental Christianity is an invention of the men of the sixteenth century.

  3. Dear Chris,

    I recently watch the discussion with you, Timothy George, and Frank Beckwith. What I was wondering after it was done was what do you think about the conclusions that were made by George and Beckwith? Where do you stand on the issue of Evangelicals and Catholics coming together and particularly on the issue of the Gospel? I would love to hear your thoughts on it!


  4. Thanks Dave and John, great comments. In regard to Dave’s point, I think we need to decide what constitutes the proper context in which to interpret the NT–the Early Church, as you point out, which does indeed appear to be more sacramental than most evangelical churches, OR, the Old Testament, particularly as it unfolds in redemptive history with its emphasis upon the democratization of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant. This latter approach, it seems to me, leads away from sacramentality and toward a word centered approach to faith.

    John, the timing of your question is perfect. I’m speaking at a conference this weekend. In the Q&A last night, your question came up. Here’s how I would say it–in regard to the objective dimensions of faith (i.e., the Apostles’ Creed) we virtually agree; however, in the application of faith (sacraments versus faith alone) Catholics and Protestants differ significantly. The implication of this, in my humble opinion, is that Catholic and Evangelicals can and should cooperate in things like social justice, prayer, public policy, but should part company in most occasions of worship and evangelism.

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