We need to know what Protestants think about Catholics. We may not want to hear what they have to say, but we need to hear it anyway.
As lots and lots of people have noticed, in a secularizing culture the serious Christians find themselves thrown together in ways they weren’t fifty years ago, or even thirty, or perhaps even ten. Lots of people celebrate it. Few seem to think about the cost.
The Catholic holding his rosary may admire the Baptist singing “What a friend we have in Jesus” as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on a cold day in late January to protest Roe v. Wade. The Baptist may admire the Catholic. They could even link arms or hold hands. But they’re still deeply divided on very basic matters and those differences don’t go away just because they unite in opposing abortion.
They matter on this issue alone. I have seen pro-life groups implode because a Catholic traced the approval of abortion to the practice of contraception and a very devout and conservative Protestant heatedly objected to the whole idea. For the Catholic, contraception leads to abortion. For the Protestant, contraception prevents abortions. (To be fair, some Protestants agree with the Church’s teaching, but they’re a small minority.) I have seen other groups uncomfortably avoid any serious discussion because everyone knew that sharing too deeply would destroy the group. That’s not much better than imploding.
What we see there plays itself out in all sorts of other issues, and in ways we probably often don’t even see. The differences matter. The Reformation isn’t over, and neither is the Counter-Reformation. For the Catholic, Protestantism isn’t Catholicism Lite. For the Protestant, Catholicism isn’t Protestantism with added options. They differ too much and too deeply. The differences and the cost of those differences is the elephant in the room and prudent people talk about the elephant before he wrecks the place.
That said, there is a party going on around that elephant. The Catholics and Protestants are having a good time together. They need to get the elephant out of the room, at the cost of some smashed tables and chairs, and perhaps a few broken bones, because after he’s gone they’ll have an even better time together.
As a way of exploring the differences, we’re beginning a series titled “What I Want From Catholics,” and inviting writers from every Protestant tradition to give us their honest answer. We chose the word “Catholics” rather than “Catholicism” partly because we wanted their view of the practice of the Church more than their response to her theory.
The series begins today with a programmatic statement from Bruce Ashford. He’s the provost and professor of theology at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and an important voice in the Southern Baptist world. Among the people who’ve agreed to write for the series, all major voices in their worlds, are Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary, Fred Sanders of BIOLA, the editor of Books & Culture John Wilson, the writer Susannah Black, and the Presbyterian theologian Peter Leithart. It will run every Friday.
Ethika Politika is a Catholic work—but not only a Catholic work. We publish from the Church for all Christians. Part of that work is building friendships with our Protestant brothers and sisters. But we only get to true friendships through honesty, and honesty can hurt. Better to work through the pains now than later. That’s something we want to offer our Catholic and our Protestant brethren.
Other articles in the series
Bruce Ashford’s Save the Drowning (Southern Baptist)
Carl Trueman’s Be True, Not Paper, Roman Catholics (Presbyterian)
Christopher Jackson's More Good Bishops, and Better Eschatology (Lutheran)
Susannah Black’s Occupy the Public Space (Anglican)
Peter J. Leithart’s Become Protestant (Evangelical)
Jerry L. Walls’ Don’t Overreach (Methodist)
John Wilson’s Keep Doing What All Faithful Christians Have Done (Evangelical)
Bob Hartman’s Read the Bible More (Churches of Christ)