Why Global Evangelicalism Needs the Catholic Church

It seems counter-intuitive to assert that global evangelicalism needs the Catholic Church. Yet, it is a most reasonable proposition. Reading the many fine histories of global evangelicalism is reminiscent of tracking a nomadic tribe. Our group has no home. We are usually identified by our distinct “markers” carved along the trail over time, or we are broadly defined by our historical “movements.” Recently, some of us who are led on by the postmodern assumption of theological polycentrism have pigeonholed us according to our geographical locales. The popular idea is that Christian theology and missions, similar to the weather, drastically change once we cross the equator. Some have even doubted if we exist at all. Possibly, it’s most accurate to say we subsist. This should all trouble us evangelicals if we believe that Christ came to build his church, that one living body that transcends generations and cultures. At times, I wonder if we are gaslighting our own reputation by continuing to revel in our particular movements and distinctions.
It is obvious that in most academic works on global evangelicalism or summons to retrieve the ancient faith for the modern world, the living Catholic Church is rarely mentioned. Some of us go so far as to revive liturgy, retrieve early reformers, explore Patristic thought, or insist on creedal guidance. However, we often seem to ignore the elephant in the room.
This paper, which is written from an evangelical position, will explore some of the benefits of the Catholic Church for global evangelicalism. It will focus on both theological and practical advantages. Theologically, the Catholic Church gives us the ecclesial Sitz im Leben for reading our Bible well. Unlike any other group, it provides a home for our theologizing and helps identify the necessary parameters of Christian orthodoxy. It can keep us from flying off of the theological rails. Practically, the Catholic Church surpasses any other group’s assistance in engaging our modern world on a myriad of hot-button issues. These topics include abortion, same-sex unions, transgender identity, capital and labor, and evolution. Their works on those respective issues usually precede our own and surpass them by far.
Despite our historic theological differences with the Catholic Church, we’d be remiss to gloss over the obvious benefit they provide to us. Sometimes, our nomadic tendencies are seen in our constant attempt to improve and change, which usually breeds restlessness. In this session, as evangelicals, I hope we can look over our neighbor’s fence and discover what J.A. Möhler called a living, fresh, and full Christianity.