Dr. Peter Kreeft is a brilliant theologian, philosopher, and a Evangelical Protestant convert to the Catholic faith.
I’ve listened to several of his lectures, read many of his articles, and become a devotee. He’s got a lot of great stuff to say, and he isn’t afraid to say it. His appeal, to me, is that Kreeft is not a man who’s afraid to mince his words.
Still, I was floored by a comment he made in a lecture on ecumenism—that is, his view on how to restore Christian unity. A task I see, and many see, as absolutely critical in our age.
Without compromising the integrity of the Catholic Church, and the truth of Catholic doctrine, Kreeft said, simply, that if Catholicism is going to have any hope of attracting our non-Catholic brothers and sisters the Catholic Church must become more Protestant.
A bold claim, and surely one to raise the ire of just about any serious Catholic but do Kreeft and me a favour and, please, read on.
Evangelical Protestantism, says Kreeft, has a serious market cornered on relationship-building, discipleship, and evangelization.
That is, Evangelical churches the world over are great at making people feel welcome (like they’re part of something bigger—because they are), teaching them how to become “little Jesus’s”, and equipping them to go out into the world and act accordingly.
Through successful programs of Bible Study, Sunday School, youth groups, and enriching fellowship, Evangelical churches build up a community that feels like a community.
They’re accessible and welcoming (an important key to the New Evangelization).
Through this kind of dedication and devotion to study and fellowship, Evangelicals are equipped to live amongst the world and witness to Christ—to live a life oriented to Christ and make it known. And the job of being Christ to our fellow sojourners is taken seriously, for the most part.
The Evangelical church is, fundamentally, missionary in its orientation.
Curious, then, that being a “missionary Church” is precisely what Pope Francis has called us Catholics to be too.
But ultimately, if the Catholic Church is going to appeal to non-Catholic Christians—if it’s going to do its missionary job—it has to “Protestantize.”
Fundamentally, says Kreeft, an Evangelical is faced with the choice of trading one fullness for another, and that’s the dichotomy that we, as Catholics, must erase.
As an Evangelical Protestant convert to Catholic myself, I’ve been profoundly attracted to the idea of receiving the fullness of Christ in the Catholic Church: being able to receive Christ in the Eucharist, being able to receive more of a more of God’s graces through the sacraments, and reconnecting to the ancient Christian Church.
But, it’s a significant trade-off to leave the Evangelical world and become a Catholic.
To give up an enriching Evangelical community of fellowship, worship, and prayer.
Many parishes are sleepy: their worship music drones on with no one in particular joining in, their priest’s homilies are trite and without thread of a theme, their programming for families (something as basic as Sunday School) is largely absent, and they don’t feel like communities (everyone keeps their coats on and has a foot out the door by the end of Communion).
This is what Kreeft means by trading one fullness for another.
The fullness of God’s grace to be found in the Catholic Church can never be understated but would a Protestant, happy and fulfilled in their current community, trade their fulfilment—their worship, discipleship and fellowship—for that a fullness that looks less full than what they already have? It simply won’t do.
Instead, Dr. Kreeft argues that the Catholic Church needs to do what St. Pope John Paul II’s New Evangelization has been urging the Church to do for several decades now: essentially, become more Protestant.
This does not mean, as Kreeft reminds us, that we jettison any of our sacred doctrines and dogmas.
We don’t trade in anything to become more Protestant, we add on and build up the communities which already exist in our parishes; we make them more full.
I’ve already seen this happening.
In the parish that offers daily Adoration and then explains to its parishioners, in a clear and robust way, exactly what’s happening at Adoration. And why it’s important.
I’ve seen it, too, in a parish that’s offering a lively children’s ministry, or outreaching to its congregation through adult faith nights.
I’ve seen parishes bucking the trend, the mentality, that just because the church is here people will come because this is, increasingly, not the case.
Just because the Church is there, people will not automatically come (even if they used to in the 50’s).
And, incredibly, the parish is not just the church building.
Catholic churches, and we Catholics within them, must make strides first to understand our own faith and then to live it and explain it. This is, chiefly, how we become more Protestant, more Evangelical: By understanding and living out our faith; not by merely adopting a culture. Those Catholics—the cultural Catholics—are doing far more harm for the name of Jesus than they are, often, doing good.
Peter Kreeft’s challenge to the Catholic Church—and to us Catholics embracing the New Evangelization—is to undertake a drastic shift in how we view our ecumenical mission.
Without losing our Catholic identity in our ancient dogmas, doctrine, and the sacraments we must become more community oriented, more focused on discipleship, and drastically improve our outward-facing evangelism.
We must eliminate the need for non-Catholics to choose, as Kreeft puts it, between one fullness or another.
Between a vibrant community and the Eucharistic Lord.
The Eucharist isn’t a prize for God’s most holy, the Catholic Church isn’t a club for the most exclusive, and the attitude which says that the sacraments should be enough is, at best, unhelpful—at worst, it strikes of the utmost un-Catholic arrogance.
After all, Jesus established the Lord’s Supper in a community with other believers. None of the sacraments are a solo sport.
And there’s nothing un-Catholic about serious Bible study, fellowship nights, prayer, and doing the Christian life together. This is how it was done from the beginning of the Church itself
The ultimate ecumenism—our ultimate embrace of Jesus’s prayer for us to be one—must result in a Church which is both Catholic, retaining the sacraments given to us by God, and equally Evangelical, with an orientation towards community, discipleship, and evangelism.
This is, of course, the best of both worlds.
This is what we should strive to attain.
This is what Christ prayed for, and that is why the Catholic Church must become more Protestant.
The Cordial Catholic