Why I’m Engaging Catholicism on YouTube

The biggest surprise of my YouTube ministry thus far has been getting pulled into the orbit of Catholic-Orthodox-Protestant dialogue. I did not expect that, and it has not previously been a particular area of emphasis for me. However, I’ve been amazed to discover (1) how much hunger there is on YouTube for such conversations, and (2) how relatively weak the Protestant side is on YouTube, particularly in relation Roman Catholic channels. For whatever reason, the volume of Catholic content and Catholic viewership on YouTube is absolutely massive. And lots of Protestants considering converting to Catholicism are taking to YouTube with their questions, and getting pulled toward Catholicism in the process. I get emails and messages nearly every day from people who are hearing the Catholic side of an issue on YouTube, but unfamiliar with Protestant responses, and needing help.

It’s been a interesting experience. For most of my life, Protestantism has been the context I’ve been surrounded in, and other traditions like Catholicism were strange lands into which I might occasionally fray. I rarely engaged Catholic theology growing up, and I believe I was in 10th grade before I even heard of Eastern Orthodoxy, and in seminary before I heard of other Eastern traditions like Oriental Orthodoxy, the Church of the East, etc. My life on YouTube is the exact opposite. Many of those commenting on my videos seem to be Catholics for whom Protestantism is at best a kind of strange oddity.

I have learned a great deal from this reversal, and it has challenged me in various ways. I’ve moved beyond some caricatures I’ve had of Catholicism, in particular. But I’m more committed to Protestantism through this process, and more committed to retrieving historic Protestant theology and liturgy to help contemporary Protestants find their way. I continue to feel that (1) we can learn from Catholics (and Orthodox Christians) and must engage them respectfully, and (2) Catholic theology is deeply flawed and the Reformation represented a genuine renewal of the gospel in the church. My position is not that Catholicism has lost the gospel, but I do believe Catholic theology obscures and adds on to the gospel.

So, without ceasing my focus on apologetics or other theological matters, I have decided to increase the emphasis and attention that Truth Unites is putting on these conversations. I’ve decided to limit myself primarily to Roman Catholicism, for starters, though I hope to engage Orthodoxy more down the road. I believe this is a real area of need. If you haven’t already had friends/acquaintances who have moved from evangelicalism to Catholicism, I bet you will in the next 5-10 years. The level of disillusionment among younger evangelicals is so high right now, and Catholicism has some particularly attractive qualities for the disillusioned (ancientness, rootedness, rigor, etc). And yet, though I see so many Catholic books and YouTube channels debunking evangelicals, I really don’t see as many evangelical Protestants offering careful, non-caricatured responses to Catholics.

There are some, of course, even on YouTube. Jordan Cooper, for example, has a good Lutheran channel. James White is a strong presence, though many find his style more abrasive. And there are other channels, but the overall picture is disproportionate. Many evangelicals tend to simply ignore Catholicism and Orthodoxy or regard them in terms of flagrant caricatures, and I think this contributes to the trend of conversions into these traditions. If all your life you’ve been told that Catholics worship Mary and don’t care about the Bible and are basically struck in dead traditionalism without any real relationship with Christ, and then you are suddenly immersed in a culture filled with intelligent Catholics who sincerely love Jesus, you are much more vulnerable to leave Protestantism altogether. So, I think we need careful, accurate, gracious yet firm, historically-informed engagement with Catholicism, and this is going to be a major area of focus for Truth Unites ahead. Here are some topics I’ve already addressed:

  1. Dialogues with Joe Heschmeyer on church history and the papacy.
  2. Discussions with the guys on Reason and Theology on the Marian dogmas.
  3. My own critiques of the papacy (here and here).
  4. My defense of sola Scriptura.

There are various other videos I’ve also done, but those are a good starting point. For those of you who support and share the videos, whether on my patreon account or on social media, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart! Truly, it means so much. I pray that my own journey of working through these issues will be a blessing to others on the same path!

I plan to continue to research in this area and produce various videos over the next 6-12 months, hoping eventually to pull the content together into a book, perhaps titled something like Rome Ain’t Home: 7 Things Protestants Should Consider Before Becoming Catholic. Here are the 7 topics I plan to address, in videos and then in the book (Lord willing):

  1. The church
  2. The papacy
  3. Mariology
  4. The Eucharist
  5. Baptism
  6. Scripture and tradition
  7. Justification

28 Comments

  1. Phillip

    If someone does love Jesus, then they will be obedient to the Lord and eventually leave the Roman Catholic Church., In John 14:15, Jesus says “if you love Me, keep My commandments”. Scripture commands believers to separate themselves from false teachers and false shepherds that are found in the Catholic Church.

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  2. This is good news, Gavin. I’ve appreciated your writing and style of engagement, and I pray God’s blessing on your venture. Over 30 years ago, I spent quite a bit of time in this realm, having many disillusioned Catholics coming to my Free Church with questions but unsure of whether leaving Rome was right or safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Craig!

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  3. Robert Leroe

    As an Army Chaplain I had a lot of exposure to Cathlolics, both priests and parishioners. My good friend and kayak partner is a Catholic priest. I found I had more in common with them than liberal Protestants. I started reading Nouwen, Kreeft, Merton, and Chesterton. While I’m not about to convert like one of our CCCC Chaplains, Al Hardy, I truly believe that what unites us is greater than that which divides us. Cordially, Bob

    ________________________________

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    1. Thanks for sharing that Bob!

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  4. Bill Burns

    Dr. Ortlund, I really enjoy the way you dialogue with Catholics, and I agree with your position that the gospel in Rome hasn’t been lost, just added to and obscured. I find that some well educated Reformed people hold to that Rome is a false Church, and as someone who now holds to Reformed theology for the most part, I find this position untenable. I had the opposite experience from you, I grew up under Roman Catholic teaching and was baptized and confirmed and left by 19 years of age, and had no experience whatsoever of Protestantism, except the little I read about as a believer when I was a teen. After I left, over the years I began to see how lacking in theological training the Church in general is, and to my surprise, Roman Catholics seem now to be better educated in their beliefs, at least those who are taking their faith seriously. Protestants in general don’t care to know anything about Rome or what she believes, or they just don’t care about Church History or theology except their own peculiar theology. It is no wonder so many are leaving Protestantism for Rome, and so the need for careful reflection and research is needed, and so I have appreciated your careful thought and research.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that Bill, and I really appreciate the encouragement!

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  5. CARLOS RAMIREZ TREVINO

    Gavin, you have written a great article that should generate some discussion. Thank you. Well said.

    Brought up in Catholicism, I was somewhat familiar with superficial Catholic teaching. It wasn’t until the age of 16 that I made a transition to Protestantism, more particularly Pentecostal Protestantism, although not as a conscious, deliberate act of separation from the Catholic Church. After that, I began to see Catholicism from a different perspective. Then in the 60’s and 70’s the Charismatic Movement began to infiltrate the Catholic Church and that persists until now.

    During the last 40 years I have had the opportunity to attend many Catholic gatherings, Mass, and other services. What strikes me the most is their renewed emphasis on Christ. I recall a Catholic Priest in Bolivia in 1981 delivering a power filled sermon on Salvation through Christ, that made me question whether I was in a Catholic or a Baptist Church. The objects and representations of angels, Mary and other saints were absent in the sanctuary. But there were still some reminders of Catholic Tradition. The lit candles, the Altar with the hidden Eucharist and prayers to Mary the Mother of God. The contrast was real. How Catholics reconcile the two aspects of their worship, Christ on the one hand, Mary and the Saints on the other, is based on Tradition.

    Unlike Protestants, who as a result of the Reformation adhere to the doctrine of Sola Scripture, Catholics are driven by traditional teachings, formalities and Tradition. While the Bible shapes many of their beliefs, it is extra-Biblical Tradition that really defines their faith. Their belief in the Immaculate Conception, the Ascension of Mary, prayers for the dead, petitions to dead Saints for intercession, the Eucharist, the Sacraments, Confessions, religious rituals and other traditions help tie Catholics to something that not only alleviates their guilt, it gives them something concrete, substantial to solidify their adherence to Tradition.

    For many, the simplicity of Protestant worship is lacking in these areas. Consequently, Catholicism gives people more to believe in and solidifies a commitment driven by rituals. The fact is, however, that Catholics believe in the Deity of Christ and Salvation through Faith. But, like many Protestants, they also believe you have to work to maintain that Salvation. The Rituals, Mysteries, Traditions, and dress, coupled with Biblical teachings on Salvation, Christ, and Baptism, make Catholicism appealing to many. There are more Catholics in the world than Protestants.

    Another reason is that their Mass directly involves people in worship. It isn’t so much a one way event, as a participatory gathering. Catholics are directly and personally involved in the entire process of the Mass from beginning to end. They confess. They stand. They recite. They pray. They go forward to receive the Body of Christ. They are fully immersed in an experience that makes Catholicism real, personal and contemporary.

    What is even more significant, in my mind, is that Catholicism doesn’t place restrictions on their daily lives. The Church is not directly involved in a person’s daily activities. They merely provide guidelines. So, Catholics don’t feel threatened by the Church. In Protestantism we spend more time preaching about the wrath and justice of God, than on His Mercy, acceptance, compassion. The Catholic message of Repentance is uttered in a softer tone. God cares. He died for you. And He will receive you. Just confess your sins to a Priest, pray the Our Father and a Hail Mary, light a few candles and you will be forgiven. I am being simplistic, of course, but that is how many in Catholicism see it.

    Protestants don’t really develop as strong an adherence, a commitment to a particular denomination. We are more committed to Doctrine than Denomination. Our commitment is to Christ, not the Church. We differ on many issues, such as Baptism, worship, salvation, the primacy of the Pope. There is an apparent inconsistency between Protestants. Yet, in my opinion, it has been Protestant Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism that initiated a slow transformation in Catholicism through the Charismatic renewal that has infiltrated the Church. Priests that speak in Tongues, Baptize by immersion and pray for miraculous healings are common. The contrast within Catholicism is perplexing.

    Yet we as Protestants have more in common with Catholics than we realize. My final note is that, in many respects, the Catholic Church gives Catholics hope. If you are a Catholic, you are guaranteed Salvation. That is a lot easier for people to accept than the Protestant proclamation that you must repent of your sins, turn to Christ, or the myth that you must live a somewhat austere life full of fears, guilt and regrets for a lack of purity, holiness and devotion. For Protestants, the message is simple; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you and your house will be saved. Is this assessment helpful to move the conversation along? Are my comments more or less on target? Please feel free to add to my comments or point out things I might not have been clear on. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment Carlos!

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  6. Gavin, thanks for sharing this. Just yesterday, I saw a video of yours addressing the historical weakness of Marian dogmas three and four. I was surprised to see it had over 200 comments. I’m a lifelong evangelical, and have always been part of congregations in what you might call a “low-church” tradition. My two-year membership in a good PCA church gave me just the slightest taste of something more conscientiously liturgical, and even there I could see the appeal.

    In 2018, I read Ken Stewart’s In Search of Ancient Roots, and found that I was starving for that content. I needed to see my filial connection to the “holy catholic church” (as says the Creed) going all the way back to the Apostles. I’m very glad to see that going forward you will be engaging Catholicism from a Protestant perspective in a more concentrated way. This is needed. This is exciting. As the Davenant Institute and others have done a good job of pointing out, the Protestant tradition is as thoughtful, serious, and rooted as any other. But such material does not have good exposure, and that is probably at least partially because demand for it has been perceived to be low. But maybe it’s not so low, after all. A modern evangelical attending a local “Bible Church” or a Calvary Chapel, though, would really have to know where to look in order to find the deeper wells of Protestant thought. I can’t to see more of your material on the RCC.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m totally tracking with you! Thanks so much for sharing this!

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  7. Gavin, I’m fascinated by the proposed dialogue. I grew up in the Lutheran Church and am now an Anglican (ACNA). The initial list of topics to explore vis-a-vis Roman Catholicism almost exactly matches the topics covered by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues of the late 20th c. There was some really solid theology in the volumes published from those rounds of dialogues and would be worth consulting. I’m sure they’re out of print but readily available in a good theological library.

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  8. Pastor Jeremy Sexton

    Hi Gavin,

    I’m a fellow CTS grad. I was there with your brother Dane. Before that, your dad was my pastor at First Pres in Augusta, GA, while I was in the Army. I’ve enjoyed your historically and theologically informed discussions on Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Your irenicism and honesty are commendable.

    I know you have an interest in the early chapters of Genesis, as I do. I’ve published a few articles in *WTJ *and *JETS *on the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. By chance, have you read them? I would love to interact with you on the arguments in those papers and see what you think. I’m not looking for a fight; I’m looking for something that is in keeping with the spirit and purpose of your YouTube channel.

    Let me know if you’re interested. We could email or talk on the phone. My number is 803.640.6856.

    In Christ’s peace,

    Jeremy Sexton Senior Pastor, Christ the King Church Springfield, MO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jeremy, always great to meet another CTS grad, and cool to hear of your connection at FPC — two places I love and cherish! I will email you back!

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  9. Hey Gavin,

    I appreciate your commitment to the truth and to avoiding caricatures at all costs.

    I get the vibe that your mission here is essentially a polemic, apology, or defense of Protestant views about or against the Roman Catholic Church. I totally respect that. But I also get the sense, from reading your blog, that you are on a personal search for truth that underlies your youtube project. If that is the case, I would challenge you to radical openness to follow where the truth leads. I even triple-dog-dare you to ask Jesus for the grace to see the truth and the courage to follow it no matter what. Ask, seek, and knock. He always answers. Also, you might want to check out Joseph Ratzinger. He is the man.

    I have prayed for you often by name.

    May Jesus guide you,
    RJ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your prayers and challenges! May the Lord bless you!

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  10. Daniella

    Is there any way you could discuss apostolic succession in one of these sections? Very few Protestant responses really get into the weeds of the complicated historical and biblical data and I think it is often represented on YouTube as an irrefutable “defeater” against Protestant traditions.

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    1. sure thing! I address it a bit here (and will consider for future videos also): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z42SQYXuXok

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  11. carlos ramirez

    I recently had a conversation with a Catholic friend about Transubstantiation, that the bread becomes the actual body of Christ and the wine His blood. She represents the average Catholic. They know what they are told, but they won’t reason or question. I hope you cover this issue. To me it seems incomprehensible that anyone would argue for Transubstantiation, but they do. How do Catholic theologians deal with this issue? Where does it begin and is there a convincing argument that will make them reconfigure this doctrine? Is it a matter of superstition or logic?

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  12. Colin Brown

    Gavin,
    Seriously. Great job with your videos on Catholicism, sola scriptura, etc. I recently had a period of reckoning with Catholic claims (several months) and came out the other side a stronger Protestant, both for biblical and historical reasons. Your videos were a great help. I would love to see more engagement on the issue of justification and the nature of the gospel in your dialogue with Catholicism as I believe this and the Papacy to be the key dividing lines between Protestants and Catholics.

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  13. eExecutives

    I am very much looking forward to tracking this endeavor of yours!

    I’ve been watching many of your videos and appreciate your approach and studied insights. We traded a couple of emails, and I just want to reiterate the overarching question that needs to be addressed that encompasses all the topics you list for a possible book…

    If, as you and I both believe, the Roman Catholic church is NOT the one true church instituted, guided, and protected by Christ, that the Holy Spirit instructs gives authority for the proper interpretation of scripture and doctrine, then is there no authority on earth to provide that? If there is, where does it lie?

    Most Protestants say that all believers, guided by the Holy Spirit, through the final authority of scripture will be guided in all truth. However, there are Spirit led, scholarly, sincere believers that come to different conclusions on all kinds of topics, even on critical ones like Baptism, the Eucharist, and others. And it’s led to thousands of denominations, splintering the church. God certainly did not intend for the church to be so divided. Yet, without an earthly authority that seems to be inevitable.

    A discussion on the Papacy can address this topic for a Protestant to a degree; but only by establishing that the Catholic church is not the authority. It doesn’t answer the questions about whether there is some other authority to rely on for the proper interpretation of scripture.

    The more I study this, the more I’m secure in my beliefs as an Evangelical Christian. However, I don’t have a satisfying answer (even for myself) for the question of authority. If that’s settled, then all other topics fall under that.

    That’s a very tough question, and I’m not putting the burden on you to provide the end-all answer. However, I am certainly looking forward to your insights and the other discussions you provide on this path!

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great question. Thank you! I will bear this in mind in my work.

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  14. Jon Hoffmann

    Dear Gavin, I very much value your conversations with Catholic apologists. For over three years I have been exploring the Roman Catholic Church and at times have felt an overwhelming pull to join, but I haven’t yet. I have become so disillusioned with many Protestant apologists and commentators who on the whole do not understand the RC Church and often have such straw man arguments. But you are different. You do have an understanding, and are full of grace and gentleness, which means I listen and take you seriously. I’m an Anglican Christian, and an ordained Anglican Priest, but at present not running a church, in fact have moved to the Middle East due to my wife’s work. I’m searching for truth, for the right authority, and am grateful that you are helping me in this search. God bless you Gavin and your family. Jon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It means so much to read this, Jon. Happy to be connected to you. Shoot me an email if there are any specific questions or topics it would be helpful for me to address. May our Lord bless and guide you.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hey Gavin, I’ve watched every one of your videos but I just saw this update, and I couldn’t be more excited to hear that you are going to focus on this area! I think your nuance, intellectual rigor, and gentle spirit will do wonders for shaping the conversation. Both my parents, and honestly a lot of Protestants I know, were raised Catholic so I was always held a caricature type view of it until I brought some critical thought back toward my own rootless and fractured Evangelicalism. I find that many former Catholics who converted to Protestantism were raised in weak versions of Catholicism and converted without ever engaging with the best of Catholic thought; it’s far more tempting than they’ve made it seem, especially in light of the preponderance of “white Evangelical crap” (borrowing that phrase from Jake Meador) that captures so much (but certainly not all) of the Protestant image in America today. This, combined with the existentially and intellectually weighty challenge of “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (credit to Todd Wilson for that phrase), a consistent amount of argumentative overreach, and, interestingly enough, the wide and sustained prevalence of Young Earth Creationism within so many Evangelical circles have all been factors that have made me far more open to other traditions. Thankfully, my own engagement with what I think is the best of Protestant thought has eased my internal concerns and been a means by which God has held me to a Reformed understanding of the Gospel. That said, I still find Roman theology important, intriguing, intimidating, though ultimately inadequate. But I know that I’ve personally only scratched the surface; and as you pointed out, I do not know of many who I trust to think and speak well on these matters from a Protestant perspective. I’m a big believer in your work and I think that this will be a great investment of your time and resources. So much so that I will be putting my money where my comment is and will begin to support your efforts as you focus on this area of study and engagement. I look forward to more of your videos and Rome Ain’t Home sounds pretty good to me! Lastly, just an idea as you consider different topics related to this, I think a lot of Protestants like myself, who are committed to Protestantism, even if a bit critical towards it, have a difficult time finding out exactly how to think of Rome and the Gospel, which then makes engaging with it messy. At what point, if ever, does obscuring and adding eventually displace to the point of anathema? It would be cool to see something by you that articulated in detail your position and why you land there. Anyway, keep up the great work, be humble, be faithful, stay committed to Christ and the Truth no matter where it goes, and thank you for all your efforts to strengthen the Church, they are not in vain.

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  16. I’m very glad to have found your Channel while looking for another interview with Michael Kruger re canonization process. Many of your vids are spot-on to my areas of focus for decades mostly revolving around early church through 4th century. Just one telling comment at this moment: how many “protestant” seminaries offer a degree in what our catholic/orthodox friends call “patristics”? I did that drill years ago. How many offer robust tracks, areas of concentration in early church history, liturgy, doctrine all within first 4 centuries? It speaks loudly.

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  17. Richard Brown

    I have seen/heard most of your youtube postings on inter-tradition dialogue and appreciate much the focus. There is a pre-denominational early church in history, springing from the 120 in the upper room through the latter 2nd century period. It is that church that we are all beholden to; the rock foundation we stand upon, assuming we “endure to the end”. When searching for a seminary to attend I was dismayed at the Early Church ignore-ance evident in the degrees and course catalogs offered by Protestant-dominated seminaries. I methodically went through the Degrees, Concentrations, Courses to see what content on the Apostolic / Ante-Nicene period could be gathered, and the selection was meager. That deficit has been extant for generations of ministers and teachers, administrators, professors, writers, theologians, apologists, missionaries from the protestant tradition. The role of guarding the historic treasures of the early church was abdicated to the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic leadership. It is no wonder that we of the “protestant” strain are adrift from the roots of the faith handed down before the emergence of labeled denominations. A few luminaries of the Reform era tried mightily to reconnect the severed life-line; example Thomas Cranmer whose “guiding star was his study of theology, in which he discarded the arid aftermath of late medieval Scholasticism and turned instead to Scripture and the early Church Fathers” [britannica.com]
    We need you and this work you are pursuing, Gavin!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot Richard! Yes, it seems like retrieval is such a need right now.

      Like

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