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A Sidebar in J. I. Packer’s “A Small Step of Faith”
by Ralph E. MacKenzie
On April 12, 1997, a Catholic-Protestant dialogue was held at Moody Coliseum, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. I was invited to be a participant on three radio interviews prior to the main event discussing issues separating Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. My radio partner was Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a friend and one of the few orthodox Jesuit priests in the United States.
We were first on KLIF (Talk Radio). The host was Kevin McCarthy—raised Protestant and now espousing Judaism. Next we were on KERA, the Dallas affiliate of National Public Radio. The host Glenn Mitchell focused on why such dialogues are helpful. We also touched on some of our differences. The final program was on KPBC, a “Christian Country” station. The host, Kevin Bullard, is imposing—a large, pony-tailed fellow who talks a mile a minute and numbers among his fans many odd and eccentric individuals, most of whom I think called in that day with questions. The time frame was to be one hour, but Kevin kept us on for two and a half hours. So Fr. Pacwa removed his Roman collar and I just loosened my tie and we rolled on.
At the main event on Saturday, April 12, Robert Bowman, an evangelical scholar, and Dr. Scott Hahn, a Roman Catholic, addressed the issue of Salvation and Justification; Dr. George Logan, a Presbyterian pastor from Australia, and Fr. Benedict Groeschel, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, spoke to the nature of the Lord’s Supper; and Ken Samples, founder of the Augustine Fellowship Study Center, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, discussed the problem of authority.
The historic differences between Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism were clearly delineated by both groups. Positions were presented however, without rancor, and even the question-and-answer sections were quite civil.
Scott Hahn, a former Evangelical turned Roman Catholic apologist, has a reputation for being a “hard liner” from his tapes directed to Catholic audiences. I was therefore surprised to see Hahn present his arguments dispassionately. He even quoted that icon of Reformed theology, Charles Hodge, with approval!
George Logan’s assessment of the Roman system was more severe than that of his evangelical colleagues. However, the combination of poor acoustics and his Australian accent prevented the audience from assimilating his criticism of Roman Catholic theology.
The event was attended by approximately 4,000 people, the majority being Roman Catholics. The Young Serra Community of Dallas did an outstanding job of coordinating the event and assisting all of the participants with their activities.
The gospel was clearly presented on the radio and in the conference itself. Although differences clearly remained, those who attended this event learned that Catholics and Evangelicals can disagree without being disagreeable.
A full report on this debate is found in this issue. (Editor)
Ralph E. MacKenzie is co-author, with Norman L. Geisler, of Roman Catholics & Evangelicals: Agreements & Differences (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995). He lives in San Diego, California, and teaches at La Jolla Presbyterian Church.