In a recent venue at which I addressed the subject of understanding and relating to Catholics, the above question was asked: “What can evangelicals learn from their conversations with Catholic friends and families?” I wish this question was asked more often since it promotes the virtues of honesty and humility, not to mention the way it prepares us to learn lessons that serve our ministries. My answer went something like the following.
Let us begin by recognizing the assumption of the question: that Protestants can and should learn from Catholics. I think this assumption is right for two basic reasons. First, it is sophomoric at best to think that we have nothing to learn from other Christian traditions. When I was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for instance, I took classes at other divinity schools in the Boston area. I studied Eastern Orthodoxy at Holy Cross, contemporary theology at Harvard, and Roman Catholicism among Catholics from Boston College. These classmates taught me profound lessons about reverence for God, prayer, bioethics, natural law, and social justice. These and other lessons we can learn from our Catholic friends and family. Did I agree with everything I heard from these classmates? No, yet their perspectives broadened and enriched mine. You say, “Well, my cousin Vito, the most outspoken member of my Catholic family, isn’t exactly the Boston College type.” Fair enough. But that brings me to the second reason why we must take the posture of a humble listener. It is essentially the law of reciprocity. If you and I ever hope to communicate effectively, we must first establish trust and credibility, currency that comes by listening before we talk. This approach, characterized by genuine concern, will enrich relationships and therefore promote fruitful conversation about the gospel.