An Evangelical Dialogues with a Catholic Priest

Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest who also blogs on Patheos. Dwight and I have been engaged in a discussion over the last few months where we are asking one another questions in order to better understand (and explore) the relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals. Here’s my question for Dwight with his answer.

Frank Viola: One of the areas where Catholics, in general, are more advanced than Protestants, in general, is in the area of helping the poor and oppressed. My question is very simple: Suppose that an evangelical Christian cannot find anyone in his or her small town that’s interested in co-laboring in ministering to the poor and oppressed. We’ll call this person Tom and he is 32 years old. Tom doesn’t want to join a Catholic Church (he differs with many Catholic teachings). However, he’s wide open to develop a friendship and a co-working relationship with another Catholic, preferably his own age. How does Tom go about finding a Catholic in his small town who would want to co-work with him in this ministry, despite the differences in viewpoint? I know cases like this so my question isn’t theoretical. Thanks.

Dwight Longenecker: Thanks for your question. Most Catholic communities will welcome newcomers assist in their work with the needy. This is one of the ways we should be working more together to proclaim Christ’s love by our actions as well as our words. The best thing for your friend to do is get to know some local Catholics and ask what work their community is doing. Many parishes have a  St. Vincent de Paul Society. This is a group of people who meet together for prayer, Bible study and to plan community outreach. They may run a soup kitchen or a food pantry or have office hours in which the needy can ask for assistance with utility bills, get advice on legal issues, get second hand clothes…or a whole range of assistance.

He should also check out his local office of Catholic Charities. This is usually run on a larger basis and they will advise him on how to be involved. I’d also suggest that he meet to pray and fellowship with the others involved in this work. That way he’ll learn more about the Catholic faith, and the Catholics will learn more about his approach to following Christ.

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  • Frank Viola

    Thanks Paul. I appreciate your interactions.

  • Paul Rodden

    Yes, Frank, it was, Jesus: A Theography, although it did seem more like a ‘Christography’ to me – ‘Theography’ being a term I’d reserve for the Blessed Trinity. 🙂

    I am currently awaiting, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context, by Jonny Miller and John Soden. It looks like it’s going to be a v. good read, too. Have you read it? Greg Koukl reviewed it the other day over on Stand to Reason’s blog which I frequent regularly, and it sounded good.

    This ‘big picture’, or ‘Drama of Salvation’ view of Sacred Scripture as in your book, as in Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen’s, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, gives a real place of dialogue for us as it’s more like the Catholic way of ‘doing’ Scripture.

  • Frank Viola

    Thank you for your comment. I’ve written many books – – so I’m not sure which you are referring to. Maybe the newest JESUS: A THEOGRAPHY?

  • Paul Rodden

    PS I apologise for not making it clear that I was trying to outline the kind of caution Catholics might have of having Evangelicals on-board in projects based on bad experiences from the other direction which causes a deep mistrust.

    Unfortunately, many Catholics just do things out of the kindness of their hearts, and are often not robust enough in their own faith to understand their motives or how it fits into their faith, and so could be seen as ‘works righteousness’, when it’s not in terms of our understanding of the Gospel. They might feel threatened too, as most of us have been confronted with not very pleasant experiences in our dealings with non-Catholics at some time or another.

    The evidence I have of that is that we started a Catholic youth group and, in a spirit of ecumenism, we invited an Evangelical organisation, Youth For Christ, to participate (I was actually on their management committee at the time as I work ecumenically, so thought it would be OK).

    However, they started confronting our young folk with the usual, rapid-fire, ‘Why do you worship Mary/call priests father/isn’t the Mass cannibalism, etc., kind of stuff, which disorientated our young people and then offered to start running Bible studies! It caused a lot of bad feeling.

    It’s not that Bible studies or questions are wrong, per se (although we shouldn’t have to justify ourselves) but, from working ecumenically, Evangelicals have to resist the urge to ‘tinker’ or ‘show us a better way’ if they want to participate. 🙂

  • Paul Rodden

    OK, Frank.

    Firstly, I think your book, despite disagreeing with it in places, is something urgently needed, and the sort of thing I was looking for before I returned to the Catholic Church. I enjoyed it very much, and have been recommending it to my ‘Evangelical’ friends. (For some reason, the term ‘Evangelical’ seems to be a term many see as an insult now, and see themselves as more ‘post-this’, ‘neo-that’ or ‘so-and-so othodox’, and I’m wondering why this is. Why/how has ‘Evangelical’ become so debased people don’t want to be associated with it?)

    I shall talk honestly and only from experience on this one.

    In our town and elsewhere here, in England, various ‘Evangelical’ ‘Social Gospel’ organisations have sprung up. However, it is clear their underlying purpose is to proselytise. For example, a criterion for one of them is that if anyone’s saved during the process (debt-counselling), you have to notify head office, and they ring a bell, then have a prayer meeting to praise God. This kind of ‘scalp-hunting’ is not attractive to Catholics.

    Secondly, these organisations (one being ‘Street Pastors’, which I believe is based in the States) have approached our church and asked us to get involved – in the guise of ‘fellowship’. But, knowing the people who have asked me this, I know behind my back they think Catholics are damned (I have overheard some of them in the Christian coffee shop running us down when they haven’t realised I’ve been in the back office so they can’t see me when I’m working there 🙂 ), yet they smile and love-bomb me all over to my face, and call me ‘Brother’. It’s creepy.
    That said, the lady who runs the coffee shop itself respects me highly after realising how ‘Biblical’ I am (as a Catholic!).

    In short, my experience is that many Evangelicals are insincere towards Catholics, never ask questions because they want answers, but to undermine, and prey on vulnerable Catholics (but this was the unwritten view I absorbed by osmosis when I was an Evangelical, so it’s not changed).

    We lost 4 families in 2012 this way, and a couple of Evangelical friends have told me one of the pastors in our town has been gloating that he’s ‘saved’ 2 Catholic families, when all he did was use his ‘Social Gospel’ organisation to prey on them when they were in difficult financial circumstances.

    You’re bound to reply, ‘But not all Evangelicals are like that’, and I partially accept that. But ‘where the tyre hits the road’, or on the shop floor, ‘all’s fair in love and war’ to them. We’re mostly not accepted as Christians, and where we are, it’s with that ‘knowing smile’ that we’re not quite up to the mark.

    I think in terms of ‘Ecclesiology’ in relation to this issue (our Catholic ‘way of being Church’), I think there are a couple of excellent articles on it by Dr Bryan Cross (Ex-presbyterian theologian) and Alvin kimel

    I cannot say enough how much I think this dia-blog is exciting, and I’m glad you’ve been willing to participate so closely with Fr L in these discussions. I wish more would do so in a genuinely enquiring manner.

    So, if there are some pointers in terms of your question, based on the above, they would be: 1) treat us as fellow Christians, 2) don’t try to convert us as if we’re not, 3) don’t patronise us, 4) don’t treat us like ‘lesser’ Christians. So, in other words, 5) if you want us to be involved with you, be sincere.

    Thank you, Frank, for being sincere and genuinely interested. It goes a long way.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Hi Frank, here is the link back to my blog where I comment further on your question…

  • Thanks for this encouraging post, brother. As a member of an organic gathering, your post has inspired me to contact the local Catholic Charities and see how I can help.

  • manny

    One other thought….Why not send Tom to the Shriner’s? They can then refer him to the lodge to start his way up the ladder…..

  • Sally Roach

    In our town we have a Lord’s Diner, two actually, that serve an evening meal free to anyone that shows up. They are operated by the Catholic Church, but they welcome volunteers of other faiths. Catholics, and Mormons, have a great sense of community and helping each other out.

  • I’m not Catholic myself, but here in Harrisburg, PA, we have a Catholic Worker community. If you can get connected with one of their groups, they’re amazing to work with!