Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Oh, there’s good stuff out there in CBA land, and much of this servicable stuff - devotionals, fiction and youth material in particular - Catholics are buying from evangelical publishers because Catholic publishers too often don’t have a clue, either in content or marketing. Michael tells me that 40% of shoppers in Christian bookstores are Catholics, which should surprise no one.

Heck, I've used some it myself - Katie likes all those girls' devotional books, VeggieTales is great, and when I was a DRE, I used materials from David C. Cook, now Cook Communications Ministries for our preK and K programs - it was just vastly superior to anything Catholic publishers put out - age-appropriate with just enough Scriptural content, the latter of which the Catholic programs studiously avoided, at that time.

And every one of my kids except Joseph has, at one time or another, gone to an evangelical preschool or daycare, simply because Catholics didn't do day care, and the Presbyterians were all about servicing the children of ladies who only needed help in the mornings so they could play tennis. So I'm no stranger to this world, to a world in which everything must be baptized, even "Oh Susanna" which comes out on the other end, "Oh Hosanna! Oh don't you cry for me! I'll go around this great big world with a Bible on my knee!"

Yeah, I've been there.

But I have to say that the total effect of the show on me was to affirm my sense both of the way in which the evangelical enterprise is fundamentally flawed and of the authenticity – the truthful approach to spirituality - of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, as unecumenical as that may be. Sorry.

Evangelical Protestantism is built on the premise that nothing “human” should come between the believer and God. The CBA is one big, unintentional witness to why that stance is, quite frankly, fraudulent and impossible. For what you see at this show is hundreds and hundreds of products, created and designed and written by human beings, which have no other intention but to explain God to other human beings.

Every year, new programs and ministry plans are developed and sold which are supposed to make the Gospel more understandable. A big part of evangelical culture is dependent on aping secular trends – from music to self-help books, and even fiction – that will, it is said, help mediate that Good News in ways that modern people will understand.

And then, there is, of course, the celebrity culture of evangelicalism, which starts with your local preacher who’s built a teeming megachurch and ends at the CBA, where televangelists march around the floor followed by a protective entourage, where participants rush from booth to booth to get autographs from their favorites.

Face it. We’re human. God meets us here, sometimes directly, but most of the time mediated through other human beings. We encounter God personally in our prayer, for example, but who taught us how to pray? Where did we find the words? You get my drift.

What you see at the CBA is almost frantic search for authority, unfortunately answered by those who are perfectly happy to gain profit and power from that search.

Catholics, Orthodox and some other mainline Christian traditions (as well as, I hasten to say, various serious evangelicals who struggle mightily with this issue) understand this spiritual dynamic. Popular evangelicalism and the culture it spawns won’t admit it, but their experience and their merchandising reveals the truth: we’re human and our experience of God is mediated through human channels. Which leaves them with Hal Lindsey and Kathy Lee’s latest CD, and us with St. Augustine and Gregorian chant. Which is perfectly okay with me.

Acts 8:31

(Note: not that the Catholic/Orthodox nexis is flawless or hasn't led some astray in the excesses of its own popular manifestations. Which is why reformations occur and why the constant balancing is necessary. But at the core, it seems, there is more honesty about the reality of human experience of faith.)


Some evangelical converts to Catholicism and Orthodoxy site the issue of authority (in its broadest sense - historical, rather than narrowly institutional) as well as a general fatigue with the constant push in evangelical churches to re-invent, to be relevant, to come up with new ways of getting people in and keeping them happy. Many Catholic converts to evangelical churches say that in those churches they've found an understanding of the reality of a personal relationship with Christ. Popular evangelicalism reflects, when you look at it deeply, a desire for authority. Popular Catholic devotions, when you look at them deeply, reflect a desire for personal relationship. Ever the twain shall meet?