Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Evangelical: a bad word?

Wow. I just discovered this discussion that started over at Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog on Evangelical Catholicism, that moved to the Intentional Disciples blog (with a wonderful post on the Evangelical Nature of Catholicism) and to Pro Ecclesia. And along the way, there was this bizarre tangent on whether converts or cradle-Catholics were more faithful, and some rather scurrilous aspersions cast on two of the most faithful priests I know!

I went to the EC institute in Madison in 2005, and then (with a much larger delegation from SC) in 2006. The Diocesan campus ministry in SC adopted EC as a model for campus ministry in 2006, and though things have been a little difficult with a lot of transition in campus ministry leadership, I am hopeful that the "EC flame" will flicker a little higher in my home Diocese. (I think Charleston might be one of the few places where the EC model is being used, quite successfully I gather, in parish settings). They're on to something, and the Institute itself is quite a positive and faith-affirming experience. And there's nothing if a deep love for the Church that animates the whole movement. In fact, that's exactly how some folks in EC describe themselves -- as one of the new movements that are renewing the Church.

Anyway, this is not really a defense of EC (Tim and Sandy Kruse did that quite well at Fr. Longenecker's blog) as some thoughts on why what they do is important. And what do they do? They help bring people to Christ. They help awaken a love for Christ (and His Church!). They spread the Good News and the joy that comes from being a disciple. How? By focusing on interior conversion -- that continual conversion that we are all called to, involving daily prayer, meditation of Scripture, and an accountable community as well as the Sacramental life of the Church. (It's interesting how many times I've heard Pope Benedict talk about a personal relationship with Christ, and meditating on the Scriptures). Perhaps most importantly, they try and form leaders who are themselves evangelized, serious about the call to holiness, and who can then go and form others.

Is evangelical a bad word? Heck no. It's because of the Evangelists that we even have the Gospels. And isn't that what "Gospel" means? And aren't we here in order to evangelize?? Isn't that the Church's "deepest identity" as Pope Paul VI put it? Yes it's a word that has a bad rap -- but it's our term. It has a rich history in the long story of Christianity. It's time to reclaim it, as our recent Pontiffs have. Yes, there are serious issues with evangelical Protestants. I don't think EC shares any of these. However, they try and utilize some models that some Protestant groups have used with some success. And why not? All those years living in the South have given me a deep respect for evangelicals. And in my experience, so many of the students I worked with who actually had some deeper sense of faith, some sense of a relationship to Christ, of the Scriptures, had spent some time in HS or college with one of the evangelical parachurch outfits. Yes, these do draw people away from Catholicism too. But for some, it actually enriched their faith. (And then there's the question of whether, at the parish level in a thinly Catholic state like SC, there is any serious stuff for folks to engage with, to help their growth in Catholic parishes which are strapped by a serious priest shortage, catechesis that serves only to get the kids through the Sacramental hoops, and a siege mentality against the surrounding Protestant culture. Sorry, that's a tangent and a whole separate conversation -- but this was the subject of a recent conversation with a friend who, quite Catholic, attends a PCA bible study.)

I wish too that things don't just boil down to either/or. One should have a deep personal relationship with Christ and love Him in the Eucharist, and follow Him in His Church. One should love Scripture and doctrine (which, at some level, is simply an exposition or plumbing of God's Word). We can have it all.

There are many ways to evangelize those who have only been Sacramentalized but not quite Evangelized. EC is one model that tries to bridge that gap. In my experience, they do a wonderful job, especially with college students. May their tribe increase.

And here's a test: Use the EC pulse evaluator and ask these questions about your own parish. I wonder how most of our Catholic parishes would do?


Sherry W said...

Thank you Gashwin, for the encouraging words. It is hard to take in that converts, no matter how devout or orthodox, have suddenly become automatically suspect in the eyes of some - in the name of defending the faith.

I can't help but get the impression that the only thing that would satisfy some commenters is if the Church purged our memory banks and reformatted our mental hard drives during the Easter Vigil so that no shred of our unsavory Protestant past remained. And of course, confirmation would have to bestow a whole new mental operating system upon us:

Traditional Catholic 1962 5.0!

Fortunately for us, the Church hasn’t lost sight of her evangelical mission to propose the fullness of the faith to all – *even* to those of us who had the incredibly bad taste to be born evangelical.

Gashwin said...

You're welcome Sherry. I get very uncomfortable when any kind of test of "purity/impurity" is used in the context of Christianity. I just don't think one goes around treating people as if they were somehow "impure" because of their background.

And if some commenters think y'all are suspect because of your Protestant background, I'm sure they'll have meltdowns over mine. I grew up Hindu -- I wonder what kind of ritual purification (other than baptism) I'd need? Cleansing in an acid bath perhaps? :-)

pritcher said...

Now, G, don't go giving anyone any ideas... ;-)

Mac said...

In a somewhat different furrow, why is it, do you suppose, that the "evangelicals" of today have been permitted by evangelicals in the broader sense to co-opt a perfectly good word that doesn't at all necessarily imply fundamentalist or bibliolatrous or even necessarily far right wing? Time was that Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalist and middle-of-the-road Baptists (the ones who recite the Apostles' Creed and sing the hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley) were quite happy to use the term of themselves and, say I, it's time to reclaim it and slough off the revisionist accretions the word seems to have been acquiring lately. In the broader (and more correct) sense it is entirely appropriate for Catholics too.