Holy Ground – Walking With Jesus as a Former Catholic by Chris Castaldo is one of those books that I knew I needed to read as soon as I saw it discussed by a couple of my favorite reviewers. While I have to admit up front that it did not “wow” me as I had hoped it would based on the reviews, it nevertheless was a very important and informative book, and one that I DID enjoy reading. And I have no doubt that I will go back to it from time to time for reference.
The subtitle of the book might lead you to conclude something about my faith experience which deserves clarification right up front. I am not now, nor have I ever been a Roman Catholic. While I too “walk with Jesus,” I do not do so as either a current or former Catholic. So, the interest I had in the book is not based on a shared experience with the author, but instead is owed to the fact that I have a number of very good friends who either are R.C., or who were R.C., and importantly other friends who I believe are a bit “on the fence” with respect to their sense of “belonging” to the institution in which their faith journeys were started (by their families) by virtue of the serial sacramental system that characterizes the Roman Catholic church.
Because of these friendships, I have made it a commitment to acquaint myself with the doctrines of the Roman church and to understand its distinctives, particularly to the extent that they stand in contrast (or even contradiction) to the doctrines of the Protestant church in general and to those of Reformed theology in particular. I claim no expert-status on any of this, but I do have at least a conversational level of understanding. And this book was helpful in advancing that understanding in certain areas.
Castaldo is a good writer and this book is evidence of that. He presents his material with the heart of one who has first-hand experience in making the often difficult transition from being raised as a Roman Catholic on Long Island, NY, serving as an employee of the Roman Catholic church (in a lay position) to leaving that institution in favor of evangelical Protestantism. And not just evangelicalism in the sence of worship, but to his vocation as a pastor at College Church in Wheaton, IL. His writing style is factual, but blended with a sense of good humor along the way.
The book, in many ways, is written directly for the benefit of those who have been on the path he has walked, but by extension will also be found helpful by those who are in a current struggle with their relationship with the Catholic church. The book is organized into essentially two parts. The first part offers perspectives on Roman Catholicism, and really focuses on why Catholics leave the church in favor of evangelicalism. Within this, Castaldo highlights 5 areas that seem to be the focus of these departures. These doubtlessly were his experience, but importantly, he cites research that he has conducted with former catholics as support for his conclusions.
Castaldo is quick to point out that one of the most troubling aspect of anyone leaving the Roman church is the often times strained relationships with family and friends who remain steadfast in their commitment to that church. It is in part two of the book that he deals with this matter. And in part two people like myself who have never been a part of the Roman church can find the most helpful information. In part two he discusses subjects such as as how Catholics view evangelicals, the range of expression and practice of contemporary Catholic faith, and how evangelicals should relate to Catholics with grace and truth.
Finally, in a very helpful appendix, the author gives a really good top-line history of how the Roman Catholic church has become what it is today from events that took place shortly after the time of the Reformation in 1517, to the present. It would take lots of reading elsewhere to glean what Castaldo present in this appendix in just a few pages.
I was clearly NOT the targeted audience for this book, at least in terms of having walked in Castaldo’s shoes, or finding myself in the midst of a faith struggle with the Catholic church. And perhaps my pre-existing familiarity with some of the doctrines of the Roman church left me feeling like I did not learn a great deal from this book. Still, I have no regrets from having read it, and I did pick up a few new facts, clarified a few others, and confirmed even more. So, I would have no hesitation whatsoever, in recommending this book to anyone who might have even the slightest interest in matters that continue to divide the Christian world between Catholics and Protestants. And, I heartily recommend it to:
1. Anyone who has already made the decision to leave the Catholic church and needs a little encouragement from someone who has had the same experience
2. Those who are in a yet unresolved struggle over the possibility of leaving the Catholic church
3. Those who find themselves in positions of loving or caring for those who are described by numbers 1 or 2.
4. Catholics who are bewildered over why friends or loved-ones leave your church.