Book Review: Holy Ground

61dsaP7cMKLI recently heard a discussion with Chris Castaldo on the Stand to Reason podcast about his book, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic. The nice folks at Zondervan sent me a copy to review. Castaldo is the Pastor of Outreach and Church Planting at College Church in Wheaton. Cover endorsements include DA Carson, JI Packer and Francis Beckwith.

I have almost no background with Catholicism. I remember going into Catholic churches for basketball games at the schools and for a few weddings. I had many Catholic friends growing up, but none who said much about their faith.

After becoming a Christian at university and going to seminary I learned a bit about Catholicism, but mostly by way of studying the reformation, like a lot of Protestant pastors have. Indulgences and "Here I stand" and the rest. 

The last few months I decided to try to understand the Catholic Church better. I've been reading, listening to podcasts, attended a couple of Mass services as well as some classes at the local Catholic church. So Castaldo's book fits in perfectly with what I'm already learning. I'll have more to talk about with my study of Catholicism in future posts, but let me focus here on my review of Holy Ground.

One aspect of the book I like is that it's unlike anything I've seen. It's really trying to get into the mind of the Catholic who becomes evangelical. Why do Catholic become evangelicals? What reasons do they give? Castaldo tells us why. That makes this one of the most practical and accessible volumes we can give to Christians trying to love their Catholic and neighbor friends to Christ. The tone is thoughtful and kind. This book won't create Christian apologetics flame-throwers.

Castaldo lists 5 reasons why people leave the Catholic faith as found in his survey and then goes on to explain them in some detail. The 5 are...

  1. Every believer is called to full-time ministry
  2. Relationship with Christ must take precedence over rules-keeping
  3. We enjoy direct access to God in Christ
  4. There is only one proper object of devotion--Jesus the Savior
  5. God's children should be motivated by grace instead of guilt

During his explanation of these 5 in the first half of the book, the author takes an "excursus" from time to time to explain an important idea (Sola Scriptura, for example). It's just a page or two to help fill in a gap. He also threw in a couple portraits, or bio chapters. One is on Luther and another is on Loyola and Cantarini. These give a bit more depth and background.

The second half of the book gets much more practical concerning Catholic evangelism. There are both positives of what to do (like keeping the main thing the main thing, engage in gospel dialog, etc) and warnings as to approaches that will be less helpful (like the pit bull approach, need to not take the Mass, etc). His advice is helpful and careful. Castaldo is thinking long term relationships much more than quick answers to questions.

The appendix, "How the Catholic Church Became What It Is: Trent to Vatican II" is a nice, tight explanation of a complex issue. I can't speak to the accuracy or where Catholics might contend with Castaldo's comments since I don't know enough about them. But it seems a very helpful history that would benefit all of us and help us "get" Catholicism better. 

Though most of the book is much appreciated and needed, I'm not entirely happy with it. 

I'm not sure how Catholic Castaldo was. He seemed to explain himself and his family as nominal Catholic, not active and practicing. I converted to Christianity from being a nominal Christian/United Methodist. But it's not much of a de-Methodist story. Scott Hahn and Tim Staples, for example, were not only devoted evangelicals, but working in ministry before becoming Catholics. I'm not saying Castaldo can't write this book without having been a priest, but somehow I anticipated something more like that. 

From my own recent attendance at our local Catholic Masses, classes, personal discussions with members and priests and personal study, I was always waiting for Castaldo to be more blunt and direct. It seems his desire to keep the tone kind kept him from some needed boldness. When I see certain Catholic practices I am provoked in spirit. I don't remember feeling like Castaldo was there very often as I moved through the book. 

Castaldo's "A Taxonomy of Evangelical Approaches" to Roman Catholics doesn't seem to have a tight category for me to fit in. Maybe I shouldn't consider that a big deal. After all, it's helpful to see how others approach RC's and he's thorough. But I think I'd be considered more aggressive in my evangelistic approach yet not "anti-catholic" in the way the book describes. At least that's the flavor I got from Chapter 11. Here's a quote to show what I mean...

Personally, I'm not going to insist that such people demonstrate their commitment to Christ by exiting the Catholic community. I'd much rather provide biblical resources and encouragement to help them grow in their faith, trusting that in God's timing they will look to the Bible to sort out questions of church membership and participation.

I can't go along with that, but the answers aren't always easy.  

Despite a few concerns, I like much from this book. It fills a gap and offers us with a readable resource for Protestants. I'm thankful for a thorough index at the end for future reference. My copy will be well worn in the next few years. It also includes discussion questions for each chapter. I encourage you to pick up a copy of Holy Ground. Buy it at Amazon.