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Should Catholic Apologists Be Invited to Speak at an Evangelical Apologetics Conference?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a recent post, I mentioned some of the speakers at an upcoming apologetics conference sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary.  One blog commenter noticed that Catholic speakers were being featured at the event and argued that they should not be.  He believes that Catholics are not Christians, and therefore cannot properly defend the Christian faith (which is the goal of apologetics).  Specifically, the commenter mentioned the fact that Catholics do not agree with evangelical views of justification by faith alone.

I disagreed with the commenter and argued that Catholics are Christian and should be able to present at the conference, but I want to know what readers of this blog think.  Should Catholics be allowed to speak at an evangelical apologetics conference?  Tell us what you think by voting in the poll below.  Also, share your comments on this issue by commenting on this blog post.


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Comments

  • Eric

    A Christian is someone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, trusting only in Jesus Christ for their salvation. Some Roman Catholics are Christians and others are not. A person is not saved (or damned) by their church membership, but by their faith (or unbelief) in Jesus Christ.

    I would support Catholic speakers if they were people like Frank Beckwith, Peter Kreeft, or Mitch Pacwa, who all have made positive contributions to apologetics and who believe Protestant evangelicals are also born again. I would want to exclude other Catholics who have not made a significant contribution to Christian apologetics or who do not recognize the validity of Protestant evangelical mission.

  • http://irreligiously.blogspot.com Terence

    I think it is ridiculous to ban a Catholic apologist from such an event. Such directives only reveal the narrow-mindedness of some of these so-called Evangelicals, who only seem content and willing to hear from those of their own kind. In fact, what is there to stop a Muslim or even Buddhist speaker from speaking at an Evangelical apologetic event? Isn’t it a good chance to exchange views and sharpen your own apologetic skills?

  • Greg

    Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc… All of these have people claiming to be Christian that are not. All of these have people that don’t understand the “saved by Grace alone thru faith” principals. I have some good friends that are Catholic and they are some of the best practicing Christians i know. A denomination does not assume someone’s relationship with Christ. If a person has such a relationship and professes that Jesus is their personal savior and Lord of all, and they have the ability and education to present such important matter to a large audience, they should be allowed to speak.

  • Sarah

    I am Catholic. I am telling you to make you aware of any possible bias, but I think my denomination has little effect on the way I’m answering this question.

    I am deeply concerned about people who limit themselves to information that they already agree with. It seems to demonstrate weak faith to me. If one’s faith is strong, it cannot be shaken by false truths. Listening to opinions from all sides gives us a framework for learning and evaluating our own beliefs. It is true that it also means opening one’s self to change, but isn’t this what we are called to do–use the mind and intellect God gave us to seek the truth?

    I believe that Catholic speakers–whether or not they represent the same beliefs as evangelicals–would be a valuable contribution to the conference. I agree with the comment above that the same goes for Muslims, Buddhists, Jews. Nothing can be lost from increased understanding.

    Additionally, from my Catholic perspective, I think it would beneficial to help evangelicals understand that Catholics are Christian and dispel some of the myths some hold about Catholics. I am saddened and frustrated when I go to our local Christian bookstore, request a Catholic item and am told, “WE ARE A CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE.” I do not believe that this ignorance can further the desires of Christ.

  • Patricia Meehan

    Bill: I was a catholic for 48 yrs and have been a born again Christian for 33 yrs. Catholics still believe that babies must be baptised (as if they knew what it was about), they pray for the dead, buy mass cards to have masses said for the dead, pray to Mary, etc. The last pope had embroidered inside all his clothes, Mary save us. Now,if that is what Christian is, I guess I didn’t have to leave that church. Unless you have either been a Catholic, or study what they believe, most people have no idea what they believe. Now it sounds like some people even want Muslims and Buddhists to be a part of Christain apologetics. Some people have very soft hearts, but I don’t think they realize other beliefs. Patricia Meehan

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Patricia,
    I was raised Catholic and then joined a Baptist church when I was 26 years old. I can find many faults in the Catholic Church, but I really believe that their core beliefs are Christian. They affirm the same essential doctrines we do, although they also add quite bit of extra baggage to those essentials.

    They get a lot of things wrong, in my opinion, but I just know too many serious Catholics who are solid believers in Jesus. In addition, when I compare traditional Catholic teachings to the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, I realize how much closer Catholicism is to evangelical Christianity. When I speak to Catholics about God and Jesus, they seem to “get it,” so I’ve softened my views of them over the years as I’ve learned more about church history and why they believe what they believe. I just don’t see the chasm that some see between us.

    More on this subject later. Thanks for the comments.

    Bill

  • Eric

    On several levels, I agree with the comments made by you and Terence (above) about the advantages of listening to speakers from other denominations and even other religions. Since this is a conference on Christian apologetics, I daresay that many attendees would welcome some intelligent presentations on that score (e.g., “A Muslim approach to defending special creation by Almighty God”).

    However, I have also been a conference coordinator and there are additional considerations. For one, the donors, supporters, or board members of the sponsoring institution. You don’t want to offend the very people who make it possible for you to have a platform, a place to speak, or a career at all.

    Another consideration is the ‘weak’ or new attendees, whose faith might be subverted by an otherwise innocuous action. Before you say “huh?”, remember Romans 14:20-21 and 1 Cor 8:7-12, about the person whose faith is shaken by my choice of diet. Some people falsely conclude that if a Muslim or Mormon speaks at an evangelical conference, that must mean that the Muslims or Mormons are *approved* for Christians. Granted, their thinking is faulty, but the conference sponsors must make allowances for these type of people who will attend.

    Another consideration is the “unrecognized” presence versus the “advertised” presence. For example, should we allow a distinction between a speaker whose Catholic/Jewish/Muslim faith is not mentioned in the program or bio sketches, versus the same person whose religious affiliation is mentioned in the program?

    I think this matter came up because Catholic speaker Peter Kreeft is on the schedule for the 2009 National Apologetics Conference. Personally, that doesn’t bother me at all. However, for some it is a stumbling block, because they come from a tradition which says Christian conferences are like the pulpit or the altar, and only people who have been properly authorized or approved should be allowed to minister there.

    Let’s flip the question around to us. Do you think that Catholic conferences, Jewish conferences, or Islamic conferences are morally, ethically, or intellectually obligated to invite evangelical speakers to their rostrum? Is it an ethical duty, or is it simply a religious courtesy?

    Thanks for your patience.

  • Eric

    You posed a good question. See my response to Sarah, below.

  • kay

    When we lived in Corpus Christi, there was a huge gang problem. One of the Catholic churches there invited our Baptist preacher to speak at their church, trying to unite all the churches to try to do something about the gang problem. No doctrine mentioned. That was ok. But not sure I think they should speak at an Evangical Conference. They are certainly not evangelists. Now, just to speak at a religious conference is ok. It does not hurt to learn about other’s beliefs.

  • kay

    From the Catholics that I know, they do not appear to have a relationship with Christ. They party 5 nights and 3 days a week, don’t go to church (Mass), one even said she was not sure there was a God. I evidently did not run in the same circles you did.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    Ephesians says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith,” not “For it is by having the correct doctrinal statement you have been saved.”

    The historical perspective of many Evangelicals is that the first century church had Christians, but then there was a period of apostasy where no one (or virtually no one) was a true believer. Then came Martin Luther (or the anabaptists, or the pietists, or the pentecostals…) and true Christianity was restored. Hmmmm. Sort of sounds like the historical perspective of a certain cult that has been discussed here.

  • Ronnie Jones

    I will add my 1.5 cents! I think we do well if we clear up a couple of things and then get to the question at hand:
    First off, I think it is fair to say that none of us can dogmatically say that all Catholics are not in Christ (saved, born again). But neither can I say this about all people who associate themselves with any other Christian denomination. So will some Catholics be in heaven, I think so. There are many in and out of protestant and Catholic churchs alike that are NOT trusting wholly in the finished completed work of Christ as their sole basis of salvation.

    So then secondly to the question “Should Catholics be allowed to speak at an evangelical apologetics conference?”. Many have commented on how good it is to get differing opinions and even from completely different religions such as Hinduism, Buddism and Islam. The problem is the conference is inherently intended to teach apologetics and to help in building an apologetic defense to college level and pastoral evangelical people. While I agree with the input from other religions and hearing contrary positions and defending the orthodox Christian beliefs (that is the heart of apologetics), I don’t think that is the intent of this conference.
    So then lastly at the heart of the issue then is, are practicing Catholics evangelical Christians? It is fair to at least mention that at the heart of the association of an evangelical was and is the protestant reformation from the Roman Catholic Church. I’m not going to pretend to understand completely every strand of different sects in Catholicism, I’m answering from a limited understanding of classic Catholicism. I think here is where we have to be careful, if a Catholic was going to speak at an apologetics conference on say textual criticism of the New Testament, the evil atrocity of abortion or other areas where we have a consensus view then I think that could be profitable. But I would disagree I believe with a Catholic speaker who is too speak on justification, canonicity of the apocryphal writings, communion or any of the sola’s of the Reformation (Faith alone, Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone or God alone be the Glory) and many other things I would say no in those cases because those beliefs are at the heart of evangelicalism and Catholics would differ widely from evangelicals.
    So, my answer would be, what a Catholic apologist is asked to speak on would be the determining factor as to whether I think it is exalting Jesus and His gospel.

    In Christ.

  • Bill Pratt

    Very thoughtful answer. I think I would agree with the gist of what you’re saying. I am almost positive that the Catholics invited to this conference are going to speak about issues such as the existence of God, or how to defend against the new atheists, or objective morality, or other such issues that evangelicals and Catholics have in common. I would be surprised if they were speaking on the issues we disagree on. I guess we’ll find out in November!

  • kay

    I am not opposed to hearing different beliefs. As a matter of fact, I like to know what others believe. But I do have to say that from what I have observed from the Catholics I am familiar with, either there is no belief or they ignore and do their own thing. This is even after the children went to catholic schools. I did not one cahtolic lady that I felt had Christ in her heart, but she is the only one.

    My Bible study teacher worked with a Muslim for think it was 18 years, on a sorta weekly basis. Finally, he “was saved” and eventually babtized. Being so unique at our church, this man was invited to speak at quite a few events and luncheons here. And, what did he stress? — That his god and our God is one in the same. He never did get it, or refused to get it. Later, he was overheard saying at his restaurant that now all the Baptist would eat at his place.
    It can be dangerous to believe what others say about
    beliefs, doctrine, etc — not for us strong in our beliefs, but like someone else said, for those that are new or weak.

  • http://canesfan22@hotmail.com Bill

    Your exchange with Patricia was very telling Bill. The Catholic faith may agree with some essential doctrine, but they miss the boat on the main one, how to get to heaven. I have known a number of Catholics, some had been Catholics for over 50 years, and not one had a clue what salvation by grace is. They are all wrapped up in the “Church”, any other denomination to them falls short of the mark because they believe they are THE church of Jesus Christ and Peter was the first pope. They are going to heaven because they are Catholic.

  • Xino

    Catholic apologists want to convert Evangelicals to Roman Catholicism. They do not think that Evangelical churches are valid expressions of Christ’s church. If they are given a platform, they will use it, even if they can only do so subtly, to evangelize for the Catholic Church. Also, the arguments of Catholic Apologists have been exposed again and again to be sophistry, based on misleading use of language such as shifting the definitions of terms in mid-course of an argument. Catholic Apologetics ministries like Catholic Answers have only been able to thrive using these deceptive tactics because most evangelical Christians, at least when speaking for our institutions and denominations, want to appear conciliatory and ecumenical. Also, our faith community has sadly failed to educate many of our faithful adequately in recent years, so too many of us are unprepared to deal with the bizarre arguments based on clever but misleading use of language that Catholic Apologists employ.

    A large percentage of people drawn to organized religion these days are not people who really want a deeper relationship with Christ as much as they are people who want a sense of certainty and order in an increasingly chaotic world. Catholic Apologists know that this is their crowd, so their arguments are aimed to appeal to people who yearn for human authority to set things straight. These apologists also paint a very distorted, idealized portrait of the Catholic Church – one in which 1 billion people are on fire for the Gospel, united behind the Pope, and surging forward to combat evil. The truth is that most Catholics in modern countries are secularized, most Catholics in developing nations are ignorant, superstitious, and know little about Christ’s teachings. One only has to visit RI – one of the most culturally-left, thoroughly de-Christianized states in America, where gay marriage and prostitution are legal, but also the most Catholic state – to see that the Catholic Apologists’ portrait of a strong Catholic Church is a lie.

    In short, Catholic Apologists like Patrick Madrid or Karl Keating should not be invited to an apologetics conference aimed at Evangelical Christians. Their goal will not be to teach people how to reach their unsaved neighbors, but to plant misleading ideas in other Christians’ minds that they need to join one particular denomination. Catholics who believe that other Christian churches are valid and who have shown their main agenda is spreading the universal Christian gospel to the unsaved may have something to contribute. But these people are not “Catholic Apologists.”

  • Xino

    I should also add this to my previous post – I’m from the northeast, where the majority of the population in some states is Catholic. Even though most Catholics don’t follow the teachings of the Church or even know what the Church actually teaches, being Catholic is considered an essential part of their family and ethnic identity. This association between the Church and their own personal sense of identity and self-worth makes many Catholics fanatical about their denomination in a way that evangelical Christians are not prepared to deal with.

    An evangelical Christian won’t knowingly lie to win an argument over religion, because to the evangelical, the point is the Truth that is in Christ. To most Catholics, the point is ensuring the victory of their own community. Their allegiance is not to the truth of the gospel, but to people and their tradition. Lies, ranting, shouting, insults and intimidation are all allowable means of winning a religious debate.

    Although evangelicals have a reputation in the secular media for being religious zealots, the fact is that most evangelicals are not ready to handle the vitriol, disparagement, arrogance, and closed-minded fanaticism that religious Roman Catholics display. Apologetics conferences should hold conferences on dealing with Roman Catholic “apologists,” and should invite evangelical speakers from New England and New York, where evangelicals are a minority and are often treated as a cult by Roman Catholics, to talk about the difficult task of engaging Catholics in real, honest discussions.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Xino,
    I seem to have phrased the question badly. People who are actively defending Catholicism against Protestantism are not being invited to the conference. There are at least two Catholic scholars, Dinesh D’Souza and Peter Kreeft, who will be speaking at the conference, but they are not speaking about Catholicism over and against Protestantism. They are speaking about topics that Protestants and Catholics agree on, but that skeptics of Christianity do not.

  • http://anselm2009.blogspot.com/ Ian Logan

    Xino, it is pathetic when one side in a debate resorts to calling the other side liars.

  • http://gadelali.wordpress.com GADEL

    I agree with you 100%

  • http://gadelali.wordpress.com GADEL

    Well, I believe some Catholic conferences do invite Evangelicals and other Monotheist as well. Not just in the case of ecumenism and pro-life activism alone. Thank you. Pax tecum.

  • http://gadelali.wordpress.com GADEL

    There are and will always be Judas’ in every part of the Church which is the Body of Christ Jesus Himself. The Church is an incarnational extension of Christ Jesus, ie. Both Spiritual and Physical. It is wrong for any one to make conclusion based on a small sample. This is what is known as Fallacy of hasty generalization. Christ knows His true sheep whether in the Catholic Church or in the non-Catholic Church. Thank you.

  • http://gadelali.wordpress.com GADEL

    ..they are THE church of Jesus Christ and Peter was the first pope. >>> They are going to heaven because they are Catholic.<<<
    That assumption you made is very false. No Catholic will go to Heaven because he/she is a Catholic. We believe you have to:
    * Believe in Jesus Christ
    * Obey His Church and
    * Endure faithfuly unto the end in a state of Grace. Period

  • http://gadelali.wordpress.com GADEL

    “In short, Catholic Apologists like Patrick Madrid or Karl Keating should not be invited to an apologetics conference aimed at Evangelical Christians.” LORD HAVE MERCY :(

  • http://gadelali.wordpress.com GADEL

    Xino says,
    “An evangelical Christian won’t knowingly lie to win an argument over religion, because to the evangelical, the point is the Truth that is in Christ. To most Catholics, the point is ensuring the victory of their own community. Their allegiance is not to the truth of the gospel, but to people and their tradition. Lies, ranting, shouting, insults and intimidation are all allowable means of winning a religious debate.”

    I only see BIGOTRY in your statements so far.

  • Donnel Jackson

    Evangelicals teach that man is saved by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. In Catholicism salvation is a process beginning with baptism. In their belief if a person died immediately after being baptized they would go to heaven. Catholics pray to Mary and wear the scapular believing that Mary will take them out of purgatory because they were wearing that piece of cloth. They have so many doctrines that are incompatible with Biblical Christianity. Their “Saint Liquori” has penned a series of prayers to Mary that are recited by Catholics the world over and are incompatible with Christianity. If the Catholic scheme for salvation is true, then evangelicals are preaching a false gospel. But as I understand the Biblical plan of salvation the Catholic Church is teaching a false gospel.

  • dee

    This conference is
    to defend the faith, and explain christianity not spend time listening to others defend their faith satan will use their words in a weak heart and confuse some. I do not believe catholics are saved for these reasons I was a catholic for the first 34 years of my life and did not know Christ as my savior,My whole family WAS catholic and nobody knew what true salvation was. We were taught to do the rosery Pray to maer sshe will go to her son Jesus and how can he refuse

  • dee

    Dee again more to say, and going to their mass, you will hear about what you have to do to ad to your salvation. If you don’t make it to heaven their is always pergertory. You go their until your sins are paid for then you go to heaven. Their is so much more. Please tell me How does a true believer believe this, continue going to their church,listen to their teachings and stay? next post please read.

  • dee

    I am very bitter towards the catholic religion, not catholic people.They are being fooled. The bible says we are to search the word of God to see if these things are true. I dont know of any catholic who does, in fact I don;t know of any catholic who is taught they are to read and study the bible. The catholic religion teaches the preist will teach you. next post

  • dee

    I have a question for catholics reading this. If what the catholic religion teaches i am thinking about all the man made traditions in that religion ash wednesday, babys being baptized just incase they die young, lent, praying people out of, purgatory, praying to mary, forgiveness of sin with the assistance of a priest, so many more and the bible teaches None of these things, How are they saved?

  • dee

    Gods word gives us the truth not listening to opinions of others. We learn and evaluate our own beliefs by reading what God says is true, In the bible. Catholics are not christians, they call themselves catholics not christians, unless you tell them they are not christians then they will defend themselves saying they are christians. I don,t know of one catholic who says we go to heaven by being a good person. Ask one. See if their answer i,s By Jesus only No other way possible. I doubt you are going to hear that. Ask me questions about the catholic religion.

  • dee

    Bill, your reply reminds me of when a catholic gets to heaven they will tell God well I only lied once. Sorry they don’t go to heaven Close is not close enough. I have a question for you Bill Why do they believe what they believe? It’s not in the bible what they believe, So why have you softened your heart for a lie? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

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