Elizabeth Esther has come up with the brilliant idea of hosting a book discussion at her blog on Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard. Elizabeth is a former Evangelical Christian who eventually moved to a more liturgical tradition. I am looking forward to the continued discussion at her blog, but I also thought it would be helpful to post some additional thoughts here. Below is her video commentary on chapter one of the book.
First, I must thank Elizabeth for recommending this book. So far it has been challenging and thought provoking. I do not share the experience with the author that she does of having grown up in an evangelical church, but can relate to much of what is presented in chapter one from growing up in an area where Catholics were the vast minority in an area of the country saturated with evangelicals. One of the qualities that strikes me as I continue to read the book is the way Howard is able to point out the strengths of this group known as Evangelical, while at the same time showing what is lacking. One perspective I would like to bring to the conversation is that of a member of the Catholic clergy who still believes we have much to learn from the evangelical tradition. There seem to be areas concerning our faith where we could stand to learn and grow while not losing sight of the places where we might share our strengths.
Howard begins his book by stating,
I have never come upon Christian believers of any ilk who exhibit more clearly than do the evangelicals the simplicity, earnestness, and purity of heart that the gospel asks of us.
In many ways I would have to agree wholeheartedly. There is certainly a simplicity in those I have encountered among this group of Christians whose basic understanding of the faith is to rely on the salvation of Jesus Christ and to trust what is said about Him in the Bible. While I disagree with the maxim of Sola Scriptura and ironically see it as one of the principal traditions of many evangelicals, the attention given to the Bible by them is something many times lacking in our Catholic population. We are slowly becoming more comfortable with the Scriptures, but still have quite a ways to go. One of the things noted by Howard is the role that the emphasis on the importance of giving witness to the faith plays in motivating evangelicals to learn the Scriptures, many times memorizing large passages word for word. I had never thought about it in this light, but if one believes strongly in the necessity of bringing others daily to Christ, it would be wise to be have the Bible at our disposal without having to even pull it off the shelf or out of a briefcase. We Catholics many times use the excuse that we don’t know the Bible because we were taught as children to emphasize other things more, like the Eucharist and other sacraments or the stories of Mary and the saints. For many of us this may be true, but the longer I have contemplated this, I don’t think we as Catholics are any less capable of learning the Scriptures or making time for a deeper meditation upon them than are the evangelicals. In fact, it is amazing to me to see adult converts to evangelical churches go from zero knowledge of the Bible, to familiarity with it in very short order.
Another advantage evangelicals may have in this realm can be summed up in two words, Sunday School. I can’t remember a non-Catholic friend growing up who didn’t just go to church for worship on Sunday, but who didn’t have to stay for at least another hour for Sunday School, and it wasn’t just limited to the kids. It also seemed that we never scheduled anything in town on Wednesday nights for the same reason. I never had to go to Sunday school as a kid, since I was attending Catholic school during the week and went to mass everyday before starting classes as well as daily religion class. It was only recently that it struck me that not everyone had the privilege of attending Catholic school and therefore got much less catechesis on our faith, the Bible included. I’m not simply saying that we should adopt the same methods and strategies that the evangelicals employ, but we shouldn’t give up the struggle to change the mentality among Catholics that we are unable to engage the Bible on the same level as other Christians. I know that we can never exhaust the depths of wisdom to be found within it’s pages.
One of the points that Elizabeth mentions in her video is her agreement with many evangelicals that Christians should look different than the rest of the world. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the ways described by the author such as avoiding dancing and card games (though I do recognize them and remember ones that were not included on his list!), there is a value to recognizing we as Christians are called in many ways to be different. Our baptismal promises call upon us to follow Christ and doing so should look like something.
It is a wonderful opportunity to take part in this book discussion and I hope some of you will consider joining in as well.