Chris Castaldo. Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. 236 pp.
Some folks write to tell their story. Other folks write as an outlet for their research. Chris Castaldo has a story to tell, and he’s done his homework.
Holy Ground is written for evangelicals by a former Catholic who writes not as a new convert who’s eager to share his story with the world, but as a seasoned pastor who knows his Bible, holds firmly to evangelical theology, and ministers to real people—including real Catholics.
The terrain that stretches between Catholics and evangelicals is fraught with every kind of landmine, but Holy Ground’s approach is refreshingly respectful and gracious toward Catholics, without sacrificing conviction, truth, or humor. With so many books written on the subject over the last two decades, does Holy Ground have anything new to say? Is it worth skimming? Browsing a chapter or two? Reading from cover to cover? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
Holy Ground is a groundbreaking book for evangelicals. Here’s why: Books about Catholics and evangelicals typically address the theological differences, historical developments, and/or the authors’ pilgrimage. This book does all that, and it devotes not an appendix or a throwaway chapter but nearly a third of the book—60 pages—to “Relating to Catholics.”
This section alone is worth the price of the book. But don’t skip the first 120 pages, “Perspectives on Roman Catholicism,” just to get to the practical stuff. Writing in a conversational style, Castaldo weaves personal stories, interviews with former Catholics, and history together with theology to give substance to the top five reasons people are leaving the Catholic church for the evangelical church. Castaldo calls the #1 reason “Motivated by Grace Rather Than Guilt.”
Not only is this section fascinating, but by the end of it you’ll begin to see what makes a Catholic a Catholic and what makes an evangelical an evangelical—really. The stories do more than build up the author’s credibility about all things Catholic. They demonstrate his respect for the priests, bishops, and institution he left, and they’ll lead you to worship Jesus Christ as you revel in the great gospel doctrines—expressed in some very old ways and in some fresh ways, too.
In the section “Relating to Catholics,” the chapter “How Catholics View Evangelicals” is an eye-opener, especially the piece on “What Evangelicals Can Learn from Catholics.” And, no, you won’t be thinking “This guy’s a closet Catholic” when you read it.
“Relating to Catholics” is at its very best in two practical ways: (1) when it helps us see that there are different kinds of Catholics—traditional, evangelical, and cultural—and how to relate to each; and (2) when it encourages us to communicate the gospel with grace and truth.
Holy Ground gets very practical when it comes to sharing the gospel with Catholics by using the imagery of a stoplight: red light (habits that must stop), yellow light (areas of caution) and green light (good regular practices). It reminds, encourages, and warns us about the emotional, relational, and practical opportunities and pitfalls of sharing the gospel with Catholics.
If your interest is in examining all the ins and outs of Catholic and evangelical theological positions, you’ll be disappointed. Castaldo provides an excellent introduction, but for a more comprehensive and nuanced discussion, I recommend Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norm Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie. Holy Ground dedicates three whole pages to the sacraments and only one page to purgatory.
Or if you’re looking for a great story, with some breadcrumbs left along the way—perhaps to give to a Catholic friend—this book is probably not for you either. Holy Ground is written primarily for an evangelical audience.
Yes, a Catholic could read Holy Ground, and benefit from it—even as they disagree with the author’s conclusions—but if you’re looking for a book to put in Catholic hands, Nothing in My Hand I Bring by Ray Galea is an excellent choice. Similar to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, Galea chronicles his pre-Christian conversations with a Catholic priest and an evangelical pastor.
And, finally, if you’re looking for something that will minister to you and encourage you to live more graciously and truthfully with your Catholic mom or dad, brother or sister, boss or employee, childhood friend or neighbor—then I commend to you this very good and godly book.