My godly Evangelical mother used to “witness” when we were out shopping. She’d ask the storekeeper, “Have you been born again?” If the conversation got going she’d relate the story of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in the third chapter of John’s gospel. I don’t know if she ever succeeded in making a convert, but she succeeded in embarrassing me somewhat. I’m now embarrassed that I was embarrassed and, in hindsight, admire her courage, faith and zeal.
The question remains, however, “Just what is a ‘born-again Christian'”? Most Evangelicals would say that being ‘born again’ or ‘getting saved’ consists of a personal conversion experience. In some way the individual has a prodigal son moment and ‘comes to himself.’ He repents of his sin and turns to Jesus Christ for salvation. He does this by saying ‘the sinner’s prayer’ which is very simply, “Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins and I want to accept your gift of forgiveness and salvation. Come into my life and make me your disciple forever.” [The overemphasis on 'the sinner's prayer' is a legitimate issue within Evangelical circles, but any such prayer is simply an attempt to put into practice Paul's words in Romans 10:9-10, "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."  The exact words themselves are of course not the point, it is the combination of belief and profession of faith that is at the heart of any version of a prayer of repentance which acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus, and one's own need for forgiveness though him.]
That’s all well and good I suppose, and if this is all that is required to be “born again” then every Catholic is a “born-again Christian” because at every Mass we confess our sins and accept Jesus. At every baptism we confess our sins and accept Jesus. At every celebration of the sacrament of confession we confess our sins and accept the forgiveness of Jesus.
The problem between Evangelicals and Catholics does not come with this core definition and basic experience. The difficulty comes in what comes next. Essentially the Evangelical (and I know I’m making generalizations and that there is a spectrum of theological opinions within Evangelicalism) doesn’t think there is anything next — at least not anything that is necessary. Once the person says the sinner’s prayer he’s got his ticket to heaven, and nothing else is required. This is a consequence of the Evangelical Protestant’s loathing of anything that smacks of “salvation by works.” He wants salvation to have no strings attached. Nothing else is necessary — not even the sacrament of baptism. [Here is where we need to clear some things up: Yes, there are some Evangelicals who have a 'catch and release' mentality that focuses far too much on the initial stage of conversion and far too little on the production of Fruit of the Spirit which is the necessary hallmark of authentic faith which has taken root.  By and large, however, most Evangelicals, and most Protestants, are well aware that "faith without works is dead", and that if spiritual maturity and discipleship are not forthcoming after any 'conversion experience' {whatever form it takes} then the whole basis of a supposed conversion is called into question, necessitating a return to 'square one' as it were, starting once again from a confession of Christ and a commitment to repentance.  It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who labeled the tendency toward a discipleship-free faith that cost its adherents nothing as "cheap grace", an invalid version of Christianity devoid of its heart.  The crux of the difference of understanding between Catholics and Protestants here seems to be on the definition of the word 'necessary'.  Protestants would point to the thief on the cross as an example of one for whom nothing more than a confession of faith was possible, certainly he had no opportunity for baptism or any other demonstration of his faith, but at the same time, most Protestants (and Evangelicals) would understand that in the long-run it is expected that every true believer would repeatedly and continually demonstrate acts of obedience and service as faithful disciples of Jesus indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  I will readily admit that trying to avoid "sounding Catholic", i.e. anything that feels or sounds like 'salvation by works' is certainly a problem for Protestants, although the opposite version is a hang-up for many Catholics as well, as both groups try to avoid sounding/acting like their historic rivals in ways that warp us both.]
The Catholic, on the other hand, quotes the New Testament and says, “Repent and be baptized.” The simple action of faith has to be combined with the sacrament of baptism. Evangelicals should understand that we do not regard baptism (or any of the sacraments) as something we do as some kind of good work. Instead, baptism is God’s action toward us. It is a completely unmerited outflowing of God’s grace toward us. This is why we emphasize baptism as the “born again” experience rather than the “sinner’s prayer,” which definitely is something a person does. [The emphasis by Father Longenecker is welcome here, for most Protestants do think that Catholics consider the sacraments to be a form of good works, not an act of God's grace, but by the same token, he's putting the shoe on the other foot where it doesn't fit either, for Protestants do not consider repentance {in the form of a 'sinner's prayer' or anything else} to be a work done by the Lost sinner, but rather an act of God's grace who calls the lost to repentance and makes repentance possible.  This is of course delving into the time-honored debate between Calvinists and Arminians, between God's sovereignty and man's freewill; not an easy puzzle to solve, and in my opinion not one that God intended us to solve.]
This is the irony from our point of view: Evangelicals say we believe in a salvation by works because we insist on sacraments. Yet our true belief is that the sacraments are the actions of Christ through his Church pouring out his grace on us unmerited sinners. He sends out the  invitations. He sets the table for the feast. He cooks the meal and serves at table. All we do is turn up. The irony is deepened because Evangelicals claim not to have a religion based on works, but they ask their converts to say the sinner’s prayer, which is a kind of work of salvation. [Here is where he swerved away from a helpful explanation and into a swipe at the opposition, unfortunately.  Let's be honest, however we understand the confluence of God's grace and man's responsibility, we all agree that without God's grace we'd be screwed, and we all agree that those who repent are not robots, they are certainly 'doing something', something prompted by God's grace, enabled by his Spirit, but it remains something that we must still do as evidence of our salvation {Not to BE saved, but to show that we have already BEEN saved, the emphasis must remain on the finished work of Jesus and the ongoing Grace of God}.  Both Protestants and Catholics are explaining what man has to do to be saved BY God somewhat differently, but an honest evaluation would conclude that we both believe that if God doesn't do what only God can do, anything we try to do will be pointless.]
Furthermore, for the Catholic, the action of faith is a continuing action. All our ‘good works’ are ‘works of faith.’ They are filled with faith and are faith in action. Instead of a once-and-done decision of ‘getting saved,’ Catholics know that faith is a commitment and continuance in a newly graced way of life. Being born again is all well and good, but if that’s all there is, we’re concerned at the alarming rate of infant mortality. [As I said before, only the worst examples of Evangelicals preach that salvation is a 'once-and-done' experience without the expectation of resulting righteous deeds, so don't make that a straw man to oppose any more than the Catholics who misunderstand the sacraments as good works instead of God's grace.]
Lest any Evangelicals think I’m throwing stones, I’m alarmed at the high rate of spiritual infant mortality amongst the Catholics as well as among the Evangelicals. A Baptist pastor friend of mine once asked me how many of the children I baptized grew up to be active and committed church members. I guessed maybe one in ten. He smiled and said he had about the same drop-off rate among adult converts whom he baptized. [Anecdotal evidence is only worth so much, but I find a 1/10 ongoing commitment rate for any Baptist church to be scandalous, we are talking about adults (or at least teens) making a choice in a setting that involves ongoing support.  If what we're doing as a Church, Catholic or Protestant, only 'works out' 1 time in 10, we'd better be taking a hard look at our own actions, for God's grace is certainly not 10% effective.]
I mentioned that Evangelicals don’t want there to be any sniff of salvation by works. However, it would be wrong to suppose that they don’t care about spiritual maturity, keeping the converts committed and living the life of faith. They do, and they work hard to make sure the faith sticks. What Evangelicals need to realize is that Catholics are also “born-again Christians.” We’ve repented and accepted Jesus. It’s just that we’ve done so in a different context and with some different basic assumptions — ones that, if you stopped to understand them, actually complement and complete what you already believe. [There is a growing consensus among Evangelicals, and Protestants in general, that a committed/active Catholic is not a part of the mission field anymore than a committed/active part of a different Protestant denomination.  There will always be those on both sides who view anyone who isn't exactly like them in belief/practice as a "heretic" to be condemned, but that attitude is decreasing, as it should.  I have to say, it is refreshing to hear a Catholic use the phrase, "born again", even though I had concluded from the Scriptures, and from my own experience with Catholics, that same thing nearly twenty years ago, it is still rare to hear a Catholic use "our" lingo, which of course is the whole point, we misunderstand each other, too often, but hopefully less in the future.]

Thus ends me thoughts on the article, I found it to be refreshing, but still suffering somewhat from the same tendency toward misunderstanding and misconception that Father Longenecker is trying to correct coming from Evangelicals, thus the task remains before us of correcting our own misconceptions of each other as we seek to build the unity of the Church of Christ.