Friday, June 19, 2009

No Final Conflict

Last night I concluded teaching a class at our Diocesan Institute on Saint Paul's Letter to the Ephesians.  One challenge I always face (and try to extend to my hearers) is understanding Scripture through some of the particular insights I've gained from my Evangelical background, yet as I've come to understand them within the broader context of Catholicism.

I am quite aware that Jesus started His good work of salvation in me within the Evangelical tradition, and I had good, strong years of development and transformation there.  I am also very aware that some of the "best" Christians I know are still Evangelicals.

At the same time, I am even more acutely aware of the things which brought me to the place of seeing that, even with all the good things in my Christian life up to that point, there was an incompleteness which could only be fulfilled in the Catholic Church.  Many of my dear Evangelical friends struggle to understand this, and some remain distressed over my path (as if my decision is a rejection of the Christian identity I once shared with them).  I have in no way repudiated my faith in Jesus Christ as I understood it when I was an Evangelical pastor; I have just "added" to my faith in ways that help my relationship with Jesus to grow.

As the class ended last evening, one of the students asked me what Catholics could learn from Evangelicals.  I answered that by also offering the other side of the question:  what Evangelicals need to learn from Catholics.

I only offered one answer from each perspective (although whole books can be, and have been, written which address quite a few issues).  I think many Catholic people could benefit from the emphasis on personal commitment and crisis spiritual experience which is so common in Evangelicalism.  I also believe that Evangelicals would do well to understand better the importance of corporate identity and, especially, the Sacraments.

As a starting point to that end, I wish people in both traditions could grasp the idea that crisis experience and sacramentalism are not mutually exclusive (so that the most critical in each camp would quit trying to prove the other "wrong"), but are dimensions of a common Faith. It's not "either-or," but instead "both-and."  There is no final conflict.

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