How to Preach the Gospel


One of the great gifts of my years at Eastern College was the beginning of a friendship with Chris Haw. We met during our first days on campus and immediately recognized one another as fellow travelers–restless spirits who wanted to both grow in our understanding of faith and figure out what we were going to do about it. As undergrads, we made a habit of diving into things before we knew what we were doing. We didn’t get everything right on the first try, but we learned a lot, even from our failures. “Action and reflection,” we called it. Chris is one of my favorite reflection partners.

When Leah and I left Eastern to start the Rutba House in Durham, Chris headed over to Camden, New Jersey, to embark on a similar experiment in faith, Camden House. We noticed when we visited that his neighborhood was much tougher than ours in many ways. Whole blocks of houses were boarded up and abandoned. But, like the neighborhood here, it had the incredible asset of an active congregation that had been doing good in the neighborhood long before Chris arrived. The local congregation in Waterfront South happened to be a Catholic parish. Chris found his way to Sacred Heart because they gave him the keys to an empty house across the street and invited him to move on in.

A decade later, Chris has added his own gifts to this rich parish and neighborhood. He has planted gardens, fixed up houses, taught kids, and started raising some of his own. In the midst of all this, he has taken the time to reflect on what all of this means for an evangelical who came to faith at one of the country’s most famous megachurches but found that faith leading him back to the heart of the Catholic church that baptized him as a baby. His testimony is an important addendum to the story of 21st century American Christianity–not only because it is representative, but because it has engaged the questions that come up along the way so well. I find Phyllis Tickle, that great commentator on faith in our world today, to be spot on in her assessment: “Only rarely, if ever, have I seen a more persuasive or compelling apologia that the one Haw makes.”

From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism is a  fine example of the point that another great reflector, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, makes in his book Resurrection:

So often prophecy and protest are conceived as essentially a message to be articulated, with little attention paid to the roots of that “message” in the form of a shared life and a style of self-awareness which distinguishes a “believing” community, a community which trusts God and itself enough to live in honesty and acceptance. Prophecy which flows from such a center speaks of a drastic refusal of certain styles of individual and corporate life…. More to the point, perhaps, are those communities deliberately created in response to an overwhelming failure in society around–multi-racial “cells” in a racist society or communities in which the disabled are enabled to have the dignity of giving as well as receiving. Such communities judge very eloquently; they do not merely speak of possible transformations but enact them (Emphasis mine).

Chris’ book is prophecy at its best–reflection on an enacted faith that is good news to evangelicals and Catholics alike. But it is more than that: it’s an invitation for us to not only see the world anew, but also to begin living a whole new life in the places where we are.

I couldn’t be happier to share this book with you–and to invite you to share it with your friends and neighbors.

What’s more, thanks to the good folks at Ave Maria Press, I have a few copies of the book to give away this week. If you’d like one, share a question below that you’d like to ask Chris. I’ll pick three (so make yours a good one!), post answers from Chris here next week, and send a book to the author of each question.

  • Logan Baker

    Who is your favorite saint and what is your favorite quote from him/her?

  • Andy Catsimanes

    I’ve long thought there might be a way that mainstream evangelical churches could incorporate New Monastic practices, but it seems such a foreign concept to many pastors – even to pastors who I think have tremendous hearts for the cities in which they live. I would love to hear any thoughts Chris might have on what that might look like. Perhaps satellite n.m. communities with a local church serving as a hub?

  • Katie Valencia

    I’m interested in reading Mr. Haw’s book. What I’d like to ask him is how does he find relevance in the Catholic Church’s message today to young Christians, especially considering the Catholic Church’s move to be what is seen and felt by many as ever more closed and defensive in its doctrine and theology rather than reflecting the inspiration of the Second Vatican Council? I am a young Catholic woman who feels continually disillusioned by my own church community. I am interested in reading your book to gain a different perspective on what has called you back to the Catholic Church community.

  • Benjamin White

    Is there anything in Catholic doctrine that you still have to grit and bear?

  • Nick Liao

    Chris, I recently read two interesting memoirs: “How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps” by Christian Smith and “Rome Sweet Home” by Scott and Kimberly Hahn –two very different books in a fast-growing genre of Protestant-to-Catholic conversion stories. Can you describe how your book fits or doesn’t fit into this genre, and what readers might be able to glean from your particular journey that may not be covered in these other conversion narratives? Thanks!

    • Nick Liao

      Actually, Smith’s book isn’t so much a memoir as a guidebook, although there are certainly some autobiographical elements. But it arguably falls into the same category!

  • Tonya Riggs

    I would like to ask Chris what “gifts” did he recieve and get to take with him on his faith-journey? From Catholic-Evangelical- and back to Catholic? Essential “traveling gear”?

  • Dan Sidey

    Chris, what are a few of the most important Catholic traditions and practices that have sustained and revitalized you?

  • craig davis

    I am a White American man with a Tswana (from Botswana) wife and a child from earlier in my life who is half Black American. I live in a predominantly Black American neighborhood. I recently became a Roman Catholic from a life in the Protestant tradition. My parish is multi-ethnic but our largest representatives are elderly White American and mid-aged/family-aged Mexican American. Will your book help me to better bring my Black American neighbors into my parish and generally continue to build the One Church of which Jesus spoke?

  • Mike

    Chris, over the past few years of completing my Masters Degree in Theology and beginning professional ministry I’ve interacted with many individuals who have converted from the Protestant faith to Catholicism. Those interactions have opened my eyes to how much richer the Catholic faith seems to these individuals, perhaps they appreciate it more, perhaps they are “more balanced” in their faith development, knowledge of scripture, etc. Or perhaps there’s another reason why they seem to exude the Catholic faith so fervently. Do you find this to be a trend amongst most converts? What can Catholics learn from those who convert? What sort of practices might you suggest for Catholics to be a bit more “balanced” in their faith life and excitement towards faith?

  • Olivia

    Do you think that the Catholic Church has done a better job than the Evangelical Church in staying with and working among the poor within the last century? Does your working relationship with Sacred Heart continue to be positive, and a mutual learning experience? And, how can the Protestant/Evangelical Church move forward in urban ministries with humility?

  • Byron McMillan

    Do you think megachurches facilitate large numbers of people introduced to Jesus but then inadvertantly systematize out the making of disciples through community?

  • Michael Burdge

    As an Evangelical who grew up a touch Fundamentalist, my faith community was always grasping for the Most Correct, or Most ‘First Century’ expression of the Church. I often encounter fellow Evangelicals from my youth–who found the ugliness and threadbare theology lacking, yet retained their faith in Jesus–who adopt a more liturgical form such as Catholicism or high Anglicanism or the Orthodox Church. However in these old friends, I often detect a vestigial small e-evangelical impulse to convert me to the ‘true’ Faith, i.e., a smells-and-bells Catholicism, comparing ‘their’ best with ‘my’ worst, and drawing the conclusion that Correctness demands I follow them down their path. My question is this: in the return to your native faith, how do you simultaneously hold up the way of doing church that is meaningful to you, yet maintain a respect for those you have worshipped with who do not (yet?) share your Catholicism? Or, to put it another way, what are some ways for Catholics and non-Catholics proclain the ‘holy catholic church’ of the creeds that recognises the present footprint of Christ’s Church?
    Thank you
    Michael Burdge

  • Mark Swanson

    Where do you see “resurrection” in the midst of too much “death”?

  • Rex Fowler

    Chris, do you actually kill & eat all them chickens you raise in your backyard???

  • Marie M

    Yours is the next book on my To-Read list, Chris, so I don’t know yet if you’ve addressed this question:
    What are two characteristics from both the Catholic and the Protestant traditions that you think the other would do well to incorporate?

  • Chris Haw

    Jonathan and I will shortly figure out how I might best respond to these questions. I’m a long winded fellow and I can never turn down conversation–even the electronic kind. That’a bad combo for a father and a carpenter, always busy with cultivating the evolution of the species and fighting entropy. So, I’ll be getting around to a response of some sort soon. Bless you all! Chris Haw

  • Matthew

    I was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church. Long story short — I became a believer in the evangelical sense while in university. I then — some years later — started on the “Road back to Rome.” I would need a book length dissertation to explain all I went through during that interesting time of spiritual examination, but for those going down the same road all I can say is the following:
    One truly needs to accept ALL that the Roman Catholic Church teaches in order to be a Roman Catholic in good standing who can also receive Holy Communion. I know there are progressive Roman Catholics who will disagree with me on this point, but the rule of the Church is quite strict. I ended up not being able to accept ALL that Rome believes to be true, so as such I had to remain an Evangelical believer. One thing I would like to see Evangelicals embrace more from the Roman Catholic side is mystery, the depth of Holy Communion, some liturgy, and social action. Roman Catholics — on the other hand — would do well to embrace the Evangelical love for the Scripture so as to increase biblical literacy among most Roman Catholics.

  • Matthew

    Oh sorry … I forgot my question :-(!
    Chris … how would you counsel those who are moving from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism — or even the other way around??

  • Matthew

    One last thing … I thought about it this morning. I certainly don´t want to misrepresent the Roman Cathoic Church, therefore when I said one must believe all things, I think it means (according to Vatican II) that when one fully understands a teaching, then one cannot go against it. When one does not yet fully understand a teaching, then one can make a decision about it in good conscience. I fully understood some teachings, and could not accept them, therefore I chose not to return to the church of my youth. I hope that clears things up a bit. I wrote this just in case someone posted the part of the catechism which speaks about freedom of conscience.

  • Bill

    Loving that idea – Such communities judge very eloquently; they do not merely speak of possible transformations but enact them – but how is it possible without succumbing to hypocrisy and ultimately destroying community and relationship?

  • Steven Kurtz

    My question: how do you (how can one) get past, or deal with, or reconcile oneself to all the post-Constantinian elements of the Roman church: priestcraft, hierarchy, and imperial impulse? These, in addition to issues (for Protestants) such as the role of Mary, the role of the departed Saints, the role of women, the issue of birth-control, celibacy-obligation for clergy, and all of the ways in which the line between religion and magic seem so blurred, make the barrier to unity enormous – as much as the lack of unity is regrettable, and clearly not what the Lord prayed for in John 17. As much as I would love to go back to Rome for the sake of unity, these reasons make it unthinkable for me. The distance, for example, between the community implied by the Didache and the Roman church in the Vatican makes the distance between it and most forms of Protestantism pale (as regrettable as the distance is).