Holy Ground for Pastors

How would reading Holy Ground specifically benefit pastors?

Here it is in a nutshell: estimates say there are 14 million former Catholics in the United States who now identify as “evangelical” or “born again.” These are people who struggle to understand how their Catholic background still exerts influence upon them and who need to confront patterns of faith that are less than biblical, while simultaneously applying more of the gospel. At the same time, they wrestle with the challenge of effectively communicating the hope of Christ to Catholic family and friends. Most of us pastors have at least some of these folk in our churches. Holy Ground is written to help church leaders offer these individuals the contextualized form of discipleship they so desperately need.

The biggest surprise for me since Holy Ground’s release has been the book’s appeal among evangelical Protestants with no Catholic background. They have Catholic neighbors, coworkers, and friends whom they want to understand and relate to more effectively. They have questions like: Are all Catholics the same? Where do the doctrinal lines of continuity and difference fall? How can I initiate gospel conversations? The depth of interest in these issues reveals a much broader audience than I anticipated.

Through an extended narrative describing my personal journey as a devout Catholic who worked with bishops and priests before eventually becoming an Evangelical pastor, Holy Ground tries to help readers to understand:

 Priorities which drive Catholic faith and practice
 Where lines of continuity and discontinuity fall between Catholicism and Evangelicalism
 Delicate dynamics that make up our relationships
 Principles for lovingly sharing the gospel of salvation by faith alone
 Historical overview from the Reformation to the present

Because Holy Ground is a pastoral work, there are several aspects pertinent to church ministry, but let me mention one I constantly deal with in my role of equipping our people for evangelism.

When we communicate the gospel to Catholics we often make the mistake of thinking that our conversations should directly address doctrinal issues. This is not only incorrect, it is impossible. When speaking to a friend about faith, we don’t speak directly to his religious beliefs; we speak to a person who holds religious beliefs. This is a crucial, overlooked distinction. John Stackhouse in his book Humble Apologetics puts his finger on it:

“To put it starkly, if ‘message without life’ was sufficient, Christ didn’t need to perform signs, nor did he need to form personal relationships in which to teach the gospel to those who would believe him and spread the word. He could simply have hired scribes to write down his message and distribute it” (John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002], 134).

This is what sometimes frustrates me about books written to equip Evangelicals to discuss Jesus with Catholics. They seem to operate according to the assumption that if you can simply pile up enough proofs, Catholics will have no choice but to surrender under the weight of your argument. Sure, we must have reliable evidence and must know how to marshal it effectively; but, we can’t ignore the personal, cultural, historical, and religious dynamics which are also part of these conversations. Like: What are the different types of Catholics in America today? How do Catholics generally view Protestants? What are the prevailing caricatures? What landmines do we routinely step on? What language is helpful and what terms undermine fruitful discussion? How can we navigate through controversies related to one’s ethnic background or the history of anti-Catholicism in America? Where is common ground and where must we necessarily draw lines of distinction? And the list goes on. Holy Ground addresses these and other such questions in order to help ourselves and the people we serve more effectively proclaim Christ’s glory among our Catholic friends and loved ones.

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