Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Evangelicals Teach Us: Knowledge of Scripture

While I was a student at a Catholic high school, I had an interesting conversation about theology with the school's priest. When I quoted several verses of Scripture from memory in the discussion, the priest half-jokingly remarked, "Oh, you know the Scriptures. You must be Protestant." (which was true at the time)

I have written many posts on this blog that criticize protestantism - evangelicalism in particular. But if all I ever wrote was negative, it would inaccurately represent what I really think - and what the Catholic Church thinks. Don't get me wrong. I became Catholic for a reason. I joined the Catholic Church because I believe her to be the Church established by Christ himself, the new Ark in which all must be to be saved.

This, however, does not mean that the Church is perfect in practice or that non-Catholics are wrong in everything they do. All non-Catholics have something to teach us.

Since I have written many posts explaining how I think evangelical protestants have it wrong, I'd like to spend the next few posts pointing out ways that Catholics can learn from evangelicals.

And the first thing is this: lay evangelicals tend to know their Bible much better than lay Catholics.

Evangelicals have an incredibly deep passion for the Scriptures. They read it everyday. They study it fervently. They memorize it, often with the chapter and verse references. Many parents lead family devotionals and read the Scriptures to their children. They work hard to follow it as closely as they can in all that it teaches. It's hard to have a conversation with an evangelical about their faith or leave an evangelical church without knowing that they are passionate about the Bible.

This is lacking on a large scale throughout the Catholic Church. This does not mean that no Catholics know the Scriptures. Many Catholics are familiar with the Scriptures, but many are not. Many Catholic Churches do not encourage people to better learn the Scriptures - or at least do not provide effective ways for it. I once knew a Catholic who, in addition to attending Mass every Sunday, would also attend a local evangelical church to benefit from the preaching. I've heard countless stories of people raised Catholic who left the Church for an evangelical church because it was there that they first were shown the riches of the Holy Scriptures.

This, quite frankly, is embarassing and sad.

For, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures were produced by the Church, canonized by the Church, and preserved by the Church. And only the Church is the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures. Yet we have allowed others to become known as being the most zealous for the Scriptures.

Fortunately, the Church is reforming itself. The bishops of Vatican II remembered that the Church's Tradition gives highest importance to knowing the Scriptures by quoting the 4th century Church Father Jerome: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." And they exhorted all the faithful accordingly: "The sacred synod...earnestly and especially urges all the Christian learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the 'excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil. 3:8)" (Dei Verbum, 25)

But such reforms are only necessary because we the Church have not been faithful to our duty to effectively teach the Holy Scriptures to the people of God. Let us repent and, in this matter, humbly learn from our separated brethren.


  1. Great Post Brantly!

    I was reared, Saved, and Baptised in a Southern Baptist Church. I was also beat over the head (figuratively speaking) with the King James Bible. I even remember being shushed in Church by my Mother when I asked her one Sunday morning what the preacher was mad and hollering about.

    I am very grateful for having the majestic cadences of the King James Bible drilled into me as a child. Whenever I try to remember Sacred Scripture it always winds up being Tyndale's majestic translation of the New Testament that comes to mind.

    In 2000, I left the Baptist Church and became and Episcopalian. Our parish was Evangelical, Charismatic and Anglo-Catholic all rolled into one! It was quite a ride. Then first the local parish fell apart over the theological issues brewing in the denomination and then the whole denomination fell apart and God led me home to the Church Christ founded.

    Everything you say in your post is right on the money. Keep up the great work.

    Pax Et Bonum,
    Mark Mitchell "Bad Catholic"

  2. I agree with your post, for the most part.

    However, I also think that it's not quite accurate to say that the Catholic church is remiss...for if a person attends daily Mass (and I mean EVERY day) they can get some preaching on the entire bible over the course of three years through readings at Mass.

    And, while I envy many Evangelicals their ability to quote chapter and verse...I also think that a lot of the time, the way they learn Scripture (at least those I have come into contact with) takes some very important passages out of the entire context. For example, they know chapter and verse of something...but then don't realize or remember that if you read another three or four verses, you can get a fuller meaning of what the entire passage is discussing. What i mean is that many Evangelical churches focus on getting the people to quote a particular verse and preach on that verse so entirely, that they miss a greater meaning within an entire passage.

    So, to be sure, there are some things bad about both sides. I agree that the Catholic church doesn't do the best job of encouraging Catholics to study the scriptures outside of Mass. I'll give you that...

  3. Yes! I have definitely noticed this. Although I'm glad you specified Evangelicals, because I think a lot of Protestants in general do not know the Bible all that well. Also, I think Michelle's point that you get a lot more of the Bible in Mass is spot-on.

    I think the best thing to happen is when Protestants become Catholics and started writing Bible studies for Catholic laypeople. That way you don't have the risk of everyone interpreting it however they want, but they're still encouraged to read and learn it, and live it.

  4. I don't think actually that Evangelical glibness with the scriptures is something Catholics should try to imitate. Usually I've just seen it used to shut people down with simple pat answers on doctrine ("Purgatory?? What about 'as far as the east is from the west'?!"). Frankly I think a lot Evangelicals IDOLIZE the Bible, misuse major parts of it, and ignore others. And coming up with slam-dunk Biblical proofs for Catholic doctrine just feeds the monster, in my experience. As I always ask my Evangelical friends, "Where in the Bible does it say everything's in the Bible?"

    Granted, YES, Catholics should know the Sacred Scriptures better. But they should know CCC better, plus the writings and lives of the saints, conciliar documents, etc. Like I read on YIM Catholic once, we have a lot longer reading list, no wonder we don't know the Bible as well as Protestants!