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Letters Between a Catholic and Evangelical



   In Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical, Waiss and McCarthy each speak to the six key issues that separate Catholics and evangelicals. Each side presents doctrinal views on whether God's Word is found in Scripture alone or Scripture plus tradition. They also identify teachers and rulers of the church and discuss how a person is initially saved; what the bread and wine represent in the Last Supper; what each side believes about Mary, angels, and the saints; and what it takes to make it to heaven.

     Has someone close to you converted? Perhaps a son or daughter left the Catholic Church to become Evangelical. Or perhaps a brother or sister married and became Catholic. This book is ideal to help bring peace and understanding: the Catholic will come to understand the biblical basis of Catholic traching and come to appreciate the Evangelical's love for Christ and the Bible; the Evangelical will be able to jettison false stereotypes of Catholics and come to respect them as Bible Christians. This is made possible by a frank yet charitable exchange of views which avoid debate and biting attacks for an honest presentation of both sides. May this be a step forward toward true Christian unity based on truth and love.

     It was a challenging call to engage Jim, an Evangelical who specializes in converting Catholics, in a dialogue over what divides Catholics and Evangelicals. But if I truly believe that Catholicism is true, how could I pass up such an opportunity to witness to the TruthÑChristÑand to answer as forthrightly and charitable as possible Jim's questionsÑquestions that many non-Catholics have regarding our beliefs. But at the same time I challenge Jim, and all Evangelicals, to address the challenges that Scripture poses to their own beliefs as well. May charity, truth, and unity prevail...God's spirit is willing, although our flesh is weak.

Fr. John R. Waiss


I found it helpful, thought-provoking, and ultimately affirming. Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical delivers real dialogue and should help anyone evaluating the beliefs in either camp.

--CBA Marketplace

Catholic priest Fr. John R. Waiss and evangelical minister James G. McCarthy have put together a unique and extremely valuable resource for all Christians in the form of their new book, Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical. The book presents their correspondence through letters and e-mail on key issues about which Catholics and Protestants disagree. They tackle such questions as whether God's Word is found in Scripture alone or Scripture plus tradition; who has authority to teach and rule in the church; how people are initially saved and what it takes for them to make it to heaven; what communion means; and how Christians should relate to Mary, angels, and saints. Throughout each of the books more than 400 pages, Fr. Waiss and McCarthy talk candidly and insightfully to each other, backing up their positions with lots of prayer, thought, and research. Yet, when they write to each other, their ultimate goal isn't to have the satisfaction of winning the other over to a particular interpretation. Instead, it's to use the dialogue to discover more about what God Himself reveals about his Son and His Church. Rather than allowing pride or anger to disrupt this process, they continually invite God to give them His grace for their efforts and remain committed to seeking Him with open minds and hearts. They clearly enjoy a genuine friendship that can serve as an excellent model for the relationships God wants all Christians to have.

Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical is an informative exploration of some of Christendom's rifts while demonstrating the value of a respectful theological fencing match.


Waiss & McCarthy have been friends for many years, and that loving friendship is very evident in the letters they exchanged on these issues. Though they may not always agree, they never argue, and always share their views with a Christlike humility. For the Protestant Christian who wishes to have a better understanding of what separates their beliefs from those of their Catholic brethren, there's no better place to start than Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical.

--Singing News

Testimonies from Readers

    In John 17, Our Lord prayed for Christian unity. It has long been my opinion that the current scandalous division of the Body of Christ owes much to misunderstanding. Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical clarifies the issues which divide Christians, and gives the Holy Spirit a tool He can use to bring us together.

--Robin Bernhoft, MD, Chairman, National Parents Commission; Radio & Television Host

 Fr. Waiss clearly explains the standard Catholic teachings (he is no 'pick and choose' Catholic or cleric), while co-author, Jim McCarthy articulates, as a former Catholic and a devout Bible Christian, many of the major positions of Evangelicals. I have ordered multiple copies of this exciting, new text. In the field of higher education I meet many Catholic and Evangelical students, faculty, and staff on an informal basis. If they have an intellectual curiosity about what unites and what divides Catholics and Evangelicals I will lend them a copy.

--Gerald H. Maring, Ph.D., Professor, Washington State University

Won't Convert You But Will Educate You, September 2, 2004 

     This is an excellent book for understanding the basic differences between Catholic and Evangelical beliefs and the sources and logic behind those beliefs. 

     It is by no means comprehensive but is an in-depth overview. It presents the views of both sides accurately and according to their beliefs. In almost every other book on this subject, the authors from one side or another present and refute what they believe to be the beliefs of the other side and end up refuting beliefs not embraced by the other. That does not occur in this book since each author presents his own beliefs and is given the opportunity to refute misconceptions that the other person holds concerning those beliefs. 

     I am Catholic and gained a great deal of knowledge and respect for the Evangelical beliefs. It did not convert me. After reading this book twice, I am more firmly committed to the Catholic faith. I also loaned this book to a good friend of mine who is Evangelical. He told me that he also gained a great deal of knowledge and respect for Catholic beliefs but It did not convert him and he feels more firmly committed to his Evangelical faith. 

     I would have given this 5 stars if it wasn't for the occasional derogatory remarks made by Mr. McCarthy towards the Catholic Church, its beliefs, and its members. It seems difficult for him to say "Catholic Church" and frequently refers to it as simply "Rome" in an attempt to make the Church seem foreign, remote, and not a church. Try to ignore Mr. McCarthy's anti-Catholic side comments and strive to understand the differences and more importantly the beliefs we hold in common.

--DRF in IGH (MN)

A Draw, July 15, 2004 

McCarthy admits up front, in his foreword, that both he and Waiss had one aim: to convert the other. That the book is published by an evangelical publishing house testifies to the fact that Waiss failed; that the book is not titled "Letters that Converted a Catholic Priest" testifies to the fact that McCarthy failed. 

     Who won the debate is more a question of readers' preconceptions than anything else. Catholics will be unconvinced by McCathy's arguments, and few Protestants will be moved by Waiss's somewhat bland presentation. Of the two, McCarthy is much more aggressive, and in many ways, much more rational. But there is a mystical element in Catholicism that doesn't mix well with pure rationalism. Recall that after consecrating the host in Mass, priest speak of the "Great mystery of faith." At the heart of the book is the question of authority: both accept the Bible as an authority, but evangelicals stop there, where as Catholics see Tradition and the Church as on equal footing as the Bible, comprising together the Word of God. 

     Much of the book, then, revolves around Waiss trying to show how the Church's extra-Biblical notions (i.e., those not specifically detailed in the Bible, such as the papacy, Mary's Immaculate Conception, etc.) are, in some way, Biblically based while McCarthy chips away at Waiss's arguments. The tables turn from time to time, especially discussing "sola scriptura," but by and large, it's a game of "Prove it from the Bible." As such, McCarthy and Waiss toss one phrase (or a derivative) at each other quite often: "No where in the Bible do we find X." McCarthy fills in the variable with Papal authority, Marian devotion, the importance of Tradition; Waiss replaces "X" with the notion of "sola scriptura," the Trinity, and a couple of other ideas. With the exception of "sola scriptura," Waiss's contention seems to be that McCarthy and evangelicals are essentially "guilty" (my term, not his) of the same thing they accuse Catholics of: incorporation of extra-Biblical doctrines. Waiss could have pushed McCarthy a bit harder on this point, I think, for he doesn't even mention a host of non-Biblical based notions that "sola scriptura" evangelicals accept: Sunday worship, non-observance of Jewish holidays (i.e., no where in the Bible does it explicitly say that followers of Jesus are to stop observing the Jewish festivals), Easter, and Christmas come to mind. This shows the Protestant notion of wanting to have its theological cake and eat it, too. Protestantism accepts the early Church councils' decisions about the New Testament canon, the proper day of Christian assembly, the appropriateness of celebrating Jesus' birth and resurrection, but most denominations (especially evangelicals) are unwilling to accept the Catholic Church's continuing authority. This is one of the paradoxes of the Protestant movement, which necessarily implies that the Church started off correctly, but somewhere got tangled up in a mess of legalism and false belief. Sadly, questions like "At which point?" and "Why would God let such a thing happen despite his promise to the contrary?" aren't mention in the book. It leaves me feeling that Waiss pulled some of his punches. On the other hand, McCarthy demolishes some Waiss's arguments in support of Catholic theology. His handling of whether Jesus had half-brothers (i.e., whether Mary remained a virgin her whole life and whether "brothers" in the New Testament should be translated "cousins," as the Church maintains) is well done, for example. 

     As I mentioned earlier, who won the debate depends on readers' preconceptions. As a non-Christian skeptic, I found the debate to be a draw. This is because "Letters" is a debate about the tenants of a religion based on a self-contradictory book, a notion neither McCarthy nor Waiss would take into account. For example, is one saved by faith alone or by faith and works? It depends on where you look in the Bible. Did Saul/Paul's traveling companions on the road to Damascus hear a voice or not? It depends on which chapter of Acts you read. Does the bread and wine become Jesus' actual body? It depends on how you read a couple of different NT passages. 

     With such a flawed starting position, a draw is the best outcome either participant could hope for. When such contradictions arise, the great literal/figurative differentiation arises. Indeed, much of the book also seems to be an argument as to whether or not to interpret this or that passage literally or figurative, with each side accusing the other of taking the passage out of context. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see debate that doesn't often (though sometimes, to a slight degree) slip into personal insults. 

     While many Protestants (and this almost always includes fundamentalists, and often includes evangelicals) think the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon and the Pope the Anti-Christ and many Catholics regard Protestants as heretics, McCarthy and Waiss keep things civil the whole time. 

     One final criticism: the length precluded truly in-depth discussion, and many of McCarthy's and Waiss's comments go unanswered. Overall, I would say it's an interesting read for the simple fact of seeing to opposing views clearly (though perhaps too succinctly) presented.

--Gary Scott (Lipnica Wielka, Poland)

On a scale of 1 through 5 ... Its a -5, May 6, 2004 

From what I read of the book I'd like Fr. Waiss's credentials checked. He should have and could have cited much more scripture in this obviously Anti-Roman Catholic text. Mary Lk 1:28 and 48, Eucharist Jn 6:53-56, 1 Corinth 11, Faith Alone? read James 2:17, Bible Alone? read Jn 20:30, Jn 21:25, 2 Thes 2:15, What is the Pillar and ground of truth? read 1 Tim 3:15, Authority in the Church? read Hebrews 13:17. Not only did Waiss drop the ball, he simply handed it to McCarthy-- Matt 7:6 (which was the same last name as the 50's Sen. McCarthy who accussed without evidence.) I hope the anti-Roman Catholic Crowd takes some time to balance their obviously biased reading lists and read some Catholic books by some Catholic authors anything by G.K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Thomas Merton etc.

 --A reader

Great Stuff, April 11, 2004

I am a evangelical christian. I haven't been converted but I must say that this is a great book. Both discuss in a charitable fashion. I bought this book because I have catholic friends and I'm always wanting to say, "here's why you are wrong!" But after reading this I have more respect for catholic. I can't say I'll become a catholic but it is a great way to understand the differences, probably the best book to understand the differences. The book is layed out so well. First one writes a letter then the other. Then they come together for a conversation (4 - 6 pages) then back to the letters. Its great. A must buy for the curious and for those wishing to understand the other's beliefs.

--B. Oglivie "book maven" (tucson, az)

Like Ice Water After a Siesta, September 24, 2003

Pastor Jim McCarthy and Fr. John Waiss made an admirable effort to engage each other not only on a polemical level, but on a human level and as men of faith. They discuss the great issues which divide Evangelicals from Catholics: Scripture - Tradition, who has teaching authority, how one obtains salvation, the meaning of Last Supper and the relation of the Christian to Mary, angels and saints. In a culture like ours, with its reliance on sound bites and quick answers, a book like this is quite remarkable. It's like diving into ice water after a siesta. Not for the timid. One small disappointment: McCarthy chose to conclude with a taunt: "Your unquestioning loyalty to Rome, however, makes me question if you can interpret Scripture objectively..." But I guess that underscores the fact that it will ultimately take something much greater than human effort to unite us as Christians.

--Fr Phillip Bloom "parish priest" (Seattle, WA United States)

WOW! September 21, 2003 

WOW! What a book! I love a fair, balanced, charitable debate on doctrine. So many times one reads what "We" have to say about "Them" complete with advice on how to convert them. This book is not like that. Here the Catholic and Evangelical both speak in open dialogue. At times the reader must stretch, as the authors did, to understand other points of view. At times one can feel the tension dripping through the pages of text, but both men stay on target as much as they are able. This book took great discipline to produce and is a gift to both Catholics and Evangelicals. One word of advice needs to be given to Catholic readers. While the Catholic position can be offered with a certain amount of clarity, evangelical theology is not as easy to articulate. Some evangelical denominations might lean more toward the Catholic point of view on certain issues (like eternal security). All in all this was one of those books I just could not put down until it was finished. It was better than TV.

--R. Kirkham "jrkirkham" (Rushville, Illinois USA)

Surprised and Fair, July 18, 2003

Having read McCarthy's Gospel According to Rome, I expected more strawmen and one sided debates. Fr. Waiss did a very good job defending the Catholic faith, and Jim McCarthy also did a nice job and was charitable. I still dont like his assumptions of Catholics not being Christian, but that is his perogative. A very useful book.

--Anthony Miller (Muncie, IN United States)

Good example of charity displayed, June 11, 2003

I started to read this book and found it sometimes difficult to continue because it seemed that Mr. McCarthy didn't always listen to the points made by Father John Waiss. Perhaps this was due to publishing restraints. Other than that, I believe the book is a great example of both parties remaining charitable in the expression of their positions and that this book would be a good study for people of both practices - so that all may be one!

--A reader from Sacramento, CA

Open Dialogue for once, May 27, 2003

As a formal Roman Catholic who has been Methodist for twelve years, I have refuted many misconceptions from evangelicals over the Roman Catholic Church. This book it fair and balanced because both authors are experts in their branch of the Christian faith, and they are given a chance to express their views on such issues as God's word, Ruling Authority, Salvation, Worship, and praying to Mary, Angels, and Saints. Both men get heated at times but always expressed brothery love during their exchanges. I thought that this book was fair to both branches of the Christial tree. My only complaint is that both men did not have time to answer all the questions between members of the two faiths.

--mark j warner (Henderson, NV USA)

Open and Honest exchange of views, March 19, 2003

I am a recent convert from Evangelical Christianity to the Catholic Church. I read James McCarthy's previous book, The Gospel According to Rome, in a desperate attempt to find a refutation of Catholic exegesis of Scripture before my entrance into the Church.So when I had a chance to buy this book I read it with interest. James McCarthy still does not refute Catholic interpretation of scripture but he and Fr. John honestly express their differences in a charitable way. This book will definitely help both faith traditions better understand each other.

--A reader

Now I understand! February 27, 2003

For those of us who have really only heard what Catholics believe, this is a wonderful resource. I have purchased 2 of these books for friends and am about to buy 2 more. I cannot feel comfortable with the "additions" the Roman Catholic Church has made to scripture, because it complicates a very simple plan for salvation. However I can now sit down with Catholic friends and at least understand where they are coming from. I study the bible with women of many Christians denomonations and there are times I have stepped on toes..this may help me to do this more gently...Great Book...thank you

--Jill St. John (Norwalk, CT United States)

That all may be one, February 21, 2003

I think dialogue between all Christians is always beneficial. It always pains me to see people disagreeing over our Savior. It is sad that for 2000 years the Church has taught objective Christian truth and yet has been misrepresented and misunderstood by so many. This book is truly a good dialogue between two believers in the same Christ. Both Father John and Mr. McCarthy have prayfully written and shared with us ther love for Christ by defining each religions traditions. I don't think we are mutually exclusive, but rather should strive for Christian Unity, the unity that has existed for 2000 years in the universal, Catholic Church Like our Lord, I pray "that they all may be one, like the Father and I are one"

--Ed Huber (Chino Hills, CA United States)

Good Debate -- Only One Conclusion, February 4, 2003

This book is a good and interesting read that clearly points out the differences between Catholic and Evangelical theology. I am definitely on the Evangelical side of the fence because I believe that it is true to The Bible and the scriptures. There are more than enough scriptures to convince me that my salvation is by faith, and faith alone through the grace of God and the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The one conclusion I find inescapable is that the two positions --Evangelical and Catholic-- are mutually exclusive. That is to say if one is right, then the other has to be wrong. The Bible tells me the right one is the Evangelical position.

--John Hernandez (Escondido, CA United States)