Three types of Catholics | Seven Protestant approaches to RC

Castaldo.jpgChris Castaldo, PhD (London School of Theology), was raised on Long Island, New York, as a Roman Catholic and worked full-time in the Catholic Church for several years. After eight years as pastor of outreach and church planting at College Church (Wheaton, Ill.), followed by three years as Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College, he currently serves as Lead Pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL. In his book, Talking with Catholics About the Gospel: A Guide for Evangelicals, Castaldo sketches the distinctive traits that belong to three main types of Catholics in America: traditional, evangelical, and cultural. I am grateful that my Catholics friends are are all “evangelical” as defined below.

Traditional Catholics

  • Discomfort with the personal dimensions of faith
  • Exaltation of the Church institution
  • Superstition and syncretism (customs such as regularly praying to dead relatives)
  • Antipathy toward Protestantism
  • An aversion to personal Bible study

Evangelical Catholics

  • An appreciation for the personal dimensions of faith
  • A view of Jesus that is just as personal as it is sacramental
  • A vibrant and “charismatic” experience of faith
  • A willingness to relate to Protestants as brothers and sisters in Christ
  • A routine of personal Bible study

Cultural Catholics 

  • Faith is a private matter
  • “Truth” lacks objective character and is relative to one’s personal preferences
  • Catholic “faith” may be a product of one’s ethnic or familial background
  • Personal beliefs trump biblical or magisterial authority
  • Evangelicals are generally considered to be hopelessly narrow and diverse

Castaldo borrows a taxonomy of seven different Protestant approaches to Catholicism by missiologist Jim Hatcher, who “served in the heavily Catholic country of Austria for many years.” My own approach is called “positive identity.”

  1. Actively Anti-RCEvangelicals with an actively “anti-RC approach” have a strong focus on the teaching and practices of the Catholic church which they feel are contrary to biblical teaching. The errors of these teachings and practices are felt to be so substantial and fundamental that most Evangelicals with this approach feel it is virtually impossible to be a born again Christian and also a practicing member of the RC church. Churches and individuals with this approach feel that it is important to regularly and decisively explain these differences. Contact with Roman Catholics is generally limited to evangelizing and public polemic, in which the perceived errors of RC teaching and practice are exposed.
  2. Passively Anti-RCEvangelicals with a “passively anti-RC” approach share the convictions of those above concerning the teachings and practices of the RC Church. They generally do not, however, use the public square to critique those teachings and practices. While there tends to be a strong desire to clarify distinctives among themselves, contact with Roman Catholic institutions is avoided and contact with RC members is generally limited to evangelism.
  3. Co-ExistentThose Evangelicals with a “co-existent” approach are concerned not to antagonize Roman Catholics by openly criticizing the RC Church, its teachings, or its practices. Many Evangelicals with this approach rarely concern themselves with doctrinal issues of any sort, including those that relate to Catholics. When differences are evident, they are seldom addressed. These Evangelicals’ posture is best described by the word “ambivalence.”
  4. Positive IdentityEvangelicals with a “positive identity” approach to Roman Catholics are relatively open about their theological distinctives, while avoiding unnecessary criticism of the RC Church. Common ground is sought, as is positive contact with Roman Catholics and RC institutions. While cautious, these Evangelicals are open to cooperating with RCs in isolated social projects such as “pro-life” efforts and disaster relief. They would hesitate, however, to cooperate evangelistically since they reject both the institution and authority of the RC Church as well as certain central doctrines. Less central differences, as perceived by these Evangelicals, tend to be minimized.
  5. SymbioticEvangelicals with a “symbiotic” approach, while maintaining core distinctives, welcome and may even seek cooperation with Roman Catholics on multiple fronts. As with the “co-existent” approach, differences are seldom the subject of internal teaching or public debate. By contrast, however, resources and energy are expended to actively pursue positive points of contact, publicly underscoring common beliefs and practices and supporting common causes, including cooperation with “believing” Catholics in evangelistic efforts. Evangelicals with this approach do not want to be perceived as “competing” with RC institutions.
  6. Ecumenical. Evangelicals with an “ecumenical” approach actively seek to build bridges with Roman Catholics in pursuit of unity. Evangelism among active RCs is discouraged, and common ground is the subject of both public proclamation and in-house teaching. Differences are generally perceived to be a matter of preference, historical and cultural, rather than theological and fundamental.
  7. Internal Renewal. Evangelicals with an “internal renewal” approach toward Roman Catholics seek to work within the RC Church and its institutions. Their desire is to encourage renewal with the goal of restoring “prodigal” RCs both to personal faith and to the RC Church. Their focus is often evangelism and personal discipleship through Bible study under the authority of, or at least in cooperation with, the local RC priest and parish. Divisive distinctions in teaching or practice are avoided or minimized.

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